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The word happiness gets thrown around in my family a lot. Happiness holds value in my family. If you are not happy, then something is wrong with you.

At least that is how I perceived the messages I received as a child. There is one big problem with that…

I am an empath.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term empath, it is used to describe someone who has high levels of empathy. Someone who can feel what other people feel. Literally… all the feels. Empaths have a very wide emotional range. They feel the high highs and low lows. They are often called “too emotional,” or the “drama queens” of their families. Sound familiar?

As an empath, I do feel a great deal of happiness, but I feel a lot of other emotions too. My empathy is my greatest gift, but before I knew what it was and why I was built this way, my emotions ran wild.

Your greatest gift left unmanaged becomes your greatest kryptonite.

Without releasing and managing my emotions, both my own and other people’s, I can quickly become overwhelmed and shut down.

One of my favourite coaching sayings is, “You can only be with the emotions of someone else, to the extent you are willing to face that emotion within yourself.” If you can’t accept your own sadness or anger, you will have a difficult time allowing other people to be sad or angry.

My emotional swings are not always pretty. At times, they have flailed and affected those who I love the most.

I view emotions as habits. We all have emotions that are more comfortable to us, and those that feel icky. For example, when I get knocked out of the good feeling emotions, I often feel frustrated. Frustration is a surface level emotion that allows me not to dive deeper and feel the hurt, anger, or sadness that is buried beneath that frustration.

There was a time in my life where I got into the habit of anxiety and sadness. At one point, even reaching a level of hopelessness. I remember calling my friend in the depths of my darkness one day and saying that I didn’t believe I would ever feel joy again.

When I was in this emotional state, I absolutely hated when I heard people’s advice to just wake up and “choose happiness.” Choose happiness. Choose gratitude.

I wanted to punch them in the face.

To me, this was ignoring all of the other emotions that I feel. It felt like I was wrong for feeling anything other than happiness, which was a rare emotion for me to feel at that time.

I recently rewatched a FABULOUS movie called, “Inside Out.” If you don’t want any spoiler alerts, go watch the movie and then return here! The movie depicts the various emotions inside our brain all working at a control panel for their human. Joy appears first, quickly followed by Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. During childhood, Joy runs the show. The whole movie, Joy desperately tries to keep sadness away and contained. Until finally, she discovered that sometimes sitting with Sadness eventually led to moments of Joy and connection. Joy finally realized…

Sadness has value too.

Yes, we all feel sadness at times, but how often do you push it away, try to hide from it or banish it to a corner of your brain so you don’t have to feel it? You may even say to me, “That’s not true. I feel sadness all the time!” To which I wonder, are you really FEELING it or are you shaming yourself and resisting the sadness because you are desperate to find joy again? Or perhaps there is a chemical imbalance that is preventing feel good chemicals from entering your brain.

Today, I am not talking about the chemical imbalance, nor am I qualified to talk about that concept. I am speaking to those who feel like they aren’t allowed to feel sadness because they have to put on the mask of happiness to be accepted by the world, their friends, or their families.

My other favourite coaching saying is, “What you resist, persists.”

If you resist sadness, it will not go away. It will be a nagging thing in the back of your mind trying to get your attention. It will try harder and harder to get some attention. Because it doesn’t want to stay with you forever, but it does want to be seen and acknowledge.

So instead of trying to choose happiness when it seems too far away, I offer you this alternative...

Reach for courage.

Courage is the bridge between the downward spiralling emotions and the upward spiraling ones. When you find yourself stuck in shame, guilt, fear or anger, don’t aim for happiness, it may seem too far away. Take a smaller and more manageable step of choosing courage.

It takes courage to sit with sadness.

It takes courage to admit to yourself that you are not ok.

It takes courage to call someone and tell them you need help or some extra love.

It takes courage to seek out professional help and be honest about what you are going through.

It takes courage to feel emotions other than happiness in a world where it seems only happiness is valued.

It takes courage to admit to yourself that you many need to take medication if there is a chemical imbalance.

It takes courage to feel other feelings because sometimes you might believe that if you let yourself feel something, you may never be able to find your way back to joy, or love, or contentment.

One thing I know about emotions, is that the fastest route out of them is not by going around them, it is going through them. Paying attention to them and seeing what is there. Having a conversation with it and seeing what it is trying to tell you. If it feels silly thinking about having a conversation with your emotions, definitely watch Inside Out and use their cartoon characters as a visualization point. Set a timer for 5 minutes and picture that little blue Sadness character sitting with you. Have a conversation. Let it speak until it has nothing left to say. Journaling can be a good tool for this conversation with Sadness as well. So is using a coach or a therapist to help guide you through this process. If paying for support is out of range for your budget, there are plenty of free meditations and resources online to help you get through the tough emotions when they won't leave you alone.

Remember, sadness has value too.

Pain makes us pay attention. It can lead to learning. It can connect us to others for support.

You don’t need to commit to sadness driving the control panel of your brain all the time, but allowing it space alongside your other emotions will keep them all in better harmony. There are moments where it is needed.

So next time you find yourself pushing your sadness away, which sometimes you need to do in order to make it through the day… go into your calendar and schedule some appropriate time to sit with that sadness and see what it has to say.

It may tell you the exact thing you need to hear to feel better.

Graphic source: Inside Out movie

At some point, I feel like a fantasy was created that healing and growth had eternal ease and euphoria throughout the process. But growing pains are normal and natural.

Think about it - when you were a kid, you may have experienced the aches of the body when you experienced a growth spirt. Or if you have kids, you have seen the agony of a child's tooth trying to pop through the gums.

It ain't all pretty, joyful and easeful!

Even in work - any time you take on a new task or challenge yourself with a new project. There may be moments of enjoyment, and there may be growing pains. Once you have done it, that task will likely become a little easier the next time you do it, and the next... and the next one after that.

The first one is always toughest. So here is your gentle reminder not to run scared. Not to lose hope if you run into a roadblock in your project and feel stuck. Ask for help. Help can also come from your physical or your spiritual team. Follow the breadcrumbs. You never know what small push from another person can do to get the energy flowing again.

There will always be more to learn through each stage, but that first can be some of the stickiest in terms of growing pains. Try not to judge something based on the first time you do it... try it again to see if it's more enjoyable subsequent times around.

You got this.

As someone who has many ups and downs in their life and energy, I have started to refer to the "downs" in my life as "The Lulls."

The Lulls have arrived in my life for a visit. I know they are just passing through, but I never know how long they are going to stay. Is it just a pop in visit, or will they stay for a longer stint?

I get so impatient and frustrated with them when they are here. Why can't they just leave? They always bring gloom and darkness and know how to push all of my buttons.

Or perhaps a button was already pressed - like a silent alarm that called to them like a bat signal in the first place.

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe I think that the Lulls are what cause the disruption and darkness, but perhaps they arrive because they know something is off and they are here to help and comfort me.

Perhaps they are trying to slow me down and get me to be still.

Perhaps they have a message for me.

Instead, I ignore them and try to rush them out of the house. That is likely the opposite of what they want. Perhaps that is precisely what makes them linger longer.

Lulls, I am here to listen. What do you have to tell me?

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