When things don’t go your way

You didn’t get that great job you applied for. The person you have feelings for doesn’t feel the same. That great opportunity fell through. You didn’t get accepted into the program. The person you trusted most let you down.

You know the feeling. You had the courage to let yourself hope and envision the possibility of this good thing working out. And then…disappointment. That future you envisioned is suddenly much different.

There are many different responses for moments like this. Some of us drown our sorrows in ice cream. Some go for a drive and yell at their steering wheel. Some call a friend to vent. Some avoid the painful feelings by telling themselves it’s going to be okay. Numbing the pain or ignoring our feelings is dangerous because it most often will lead to depression or explosive anger (or both). When we go through hard experiences, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

Acknowledge your feelings

The only effective thing to do with feelings is to feel them. Trying to stuff them away will only cause more problems. Toxic positivity is a great enemy to our feelings. Toxic positivity might sound like this:

“But I have so much to be grateful for.”

“Other people have it so much worse.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I can’t be mad because that means I don’t trust God.”

The world has trained us to believe that it is not okay to experience negative feelings. It only makes sense that most of us internalize this belief and try to fix our own negative feelings. But here’s the truth: our feelings do not need to be fixed. They need to be felt.

When a negative event happens, it is absolutely normal to have negative feelings. Acknowledge the feelings. Name them. Write them down. Share them with a trusted friend. Talk about why it makes you so mad. Express the disappointment you are experiencing and the hopes that you had built up. Share the anger you feel at yourself, at others, even at God. Bring light to the fears underlying this experience. Let your feelings be felt. This is how we stay in control of our feelings.

It may be scary at first to give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions. Many people are afraid of what they may find there, especially if you are accustomed to repressing your feelings. It may be overwhelming. But the feelings will not last forever. They are like a flowing river; they will come, and then they will go. When we give voice to our feelings, they are allowed to run free, and we move through them (not get over them). Expressing them actually allows us to move past the feelings, whereas repression will keep us stuck.

Christ promises to be with us in the midst of our fears and our feelings. He will not let us be overwhelmed to the point of helplessness, no matter how intense our feelings may be. When we give ourselves permission to feel, we are giving ourselves the freedom to grieve. Grief happens when we experience these losses–the loss of a job opportunity, the loss of a friend, the loss of a possibility of a relationship, the loss of hope in a different future. Grief is every emotion. And the only way to the other side of grief is through.

Avoid vows

Difficult moments in life that bring up intense feelings can lead us to form vows to protect ourselves from experiencing something similar in the future. Vows sound like this:

Vows from a lost job opportunity: I must do it all on my own. I must strive and work to be the best in order to not fail again.

Vows from a lost relationship: I have to be a better friend. I must be perfect and only do and say what will make others happy.

Vows from loss of health or safety: The world is not safe. I must always be on guard and protect myself and others.

Vows become engrained in our thinking patterns. We begin to live out of these vows instead of living out of our identity in Christ. Instead of resting in our identity, we strive and grasp. This leads to anxiety, depression, shame, and extreme anger.

We can avoid these vows by taking our hurt to Jesus. By mourning our loss with him and letting him weep with us, he will transform our suffering in the same way his death on the cross was transformed into the glory of the resurrection. We must be honest about the hurt, confusion, anger, and sorrow that we feel. Only then can we rest in the truth of God’s fatherly love and divine providence. Only then can we accept the truth that God will bring good out of our sufferings.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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