My family had two funerals in the last five days. At the second one, we were reminded, “It’s not a funeral, it’s a celebration of life”– a common statement to encourage loved ones not to be sad and solemn. While well intended, the truth is, in these scenarios many of us are sad. And that’s okay. We can be at peace about a loved one being in a better place while being in pain about them no longer being with us. In fact, many of life’s experiences have these complexities. As multifaceted beings, we can experience celebration and sadness simultaneously, and we would greatly benefit from holding more space for mixed emotions.
Benefit #1: Freedom to feel
As an encourager, I spent years trying to “fix” other people’s emotions if they were feeling off or down. However, after having enough of my own difficult experiences, I’ve learned that feelings need to be felt, not fixed. Feelings give us information about how the world around us is impacting us, and by holding space for our true emotions, we gain the freedom to feel and process without the pressure of trying to “get back to normal.”
If I’m having a moment, I want to go through it without being pushed to feel differently or think about the good things. We can know something will work out and still be frustrated with the journey. We are complex individuals who require nuanced responses. Instead of trying to encourage, we can first seek to understand the weight of what a person is feeling and learn what they need or want in the moment. We can also do this with ourselves.
Benefit #2: Permission to process
When we hold space for a variety of emotions, we give ourselves and others the ability to process more objectively. Using the funeral example, if we only give ourselves space to celebrate, we minimize our opportunities to work through grief. On the flip side, if we only fixate on the loss of a loved one, we may fail to appreciate or see the lessons, laughs and legacy they’ve left behind. Both the loss and celebration are essential to feel and process, but we can’t act on what we don’t acknowledge.
Giving ourselves permission to process all of our emotions allows us to keep a balanced perspective; this keeps us from engaging in toxic positivity and overwhelming pessimism. It also teaches us to be honest with ourselves and others. Very rarely are things all good or all bad, but learning to see and work through the in-between takes intention and practice. The next time someone asks how you are, take a moment to assess the nuance of your day and try responding with your whole succinct truth. This could sound like, “I am good overall, but processing some grief.” Honest answers open the door for more genuine interactions.
Benefit #3: Authorization to be authentic
When we acknowledge the multiple truths that exist within us we give ourselves license to stop performing and start acting authentically. This is how we become the healed, understood, genuine beings we desire to be. We unpack our layers and spend time exploring the internal areas that are not so black and white. Life is much more gray than we like to admit, and the more we begin to feel, process, and own our complexities, the more we make room for others to do the same. We have the authority to embrace all of our emotions, and to show up in the world as our most complex and authentic selves. With this in mind, ask yourself if you’re being authentic about the mixed emotions this season of life is bringing up for you.
Rest in peace Cousin Leroy and Cousin Vincent.