my struggle with indulgent emotions
the difference between paying attention to your emotions is different from indulging in them
I thought I knew but failed to understand one distinction: paying attention to your emotions is different from indulging in them.
When covid hit, I felt like I had more time to be alone with my emotions and no choice but to confront many negative feelings. At the time, I embraced the notion that what you feel is valid and it matters. It's okay to be not okay. It felt like ignoring my feelings and pretending to be happy was a crime, and I had to treat what I felt like as the absolute truth because, well, the self is the only thing you have, and it's the most important thing. So that's what I did—sinking into the sadness, the emptiness, and the hopelessness.
I identified with my negative thoughts, and this sense of emptiness and stuckness never went away. Gradually, my negative feelings became my labels, and they started defining me. Saying “I am sad” became “I am a sad person.” A description of a state of mind turned into a fixed personality trait.
Still, it felt like identifying with the negativity was serving me because I had rather wanted to be a sad person than no one. When everything feels like a mess, we even use our brokenness to form and protect our identity.
Indulgence was my way of running away from taking responsibility for my life and overcoming fears. It was still more comforting than having to face what was wrong. Having a problem is always easier than fixing it. I wanted to have become happy without doing the things that make me happy.
Every day when I sat down and wrote, I found myself thinking in circles: repeated realizations of how I am sad because I am sad. An acute sense of guilt and meaninglessness because I am unable to focus. How my life feels empty because there's nothing meaningful.
I blamed ‘the world’ (reads everything but me) for being absurd, meaningless, and unfair. But that didn’t change a thing. It felt like a long, endless state of stagnation.
It’s interesting how your writing feels superficial and shallow when you’re not being honest. Writing every thought down every day made it obvious I was dishonest about what was really going on. I didn't have the courage to pay attention to what was fucked up about myself—the root cause of all the issues in my life.
Having realized that, I started paying more attention to my emotions to find out what I am scared of. This requires having space between you and your feelings and having the courage to face them despite your fears. Instead of identifying with negative thoughts, really, really observe and ask what fear is preventing you from addressing your problem. Then, whenever you feel like you found the answer, ask again, am I really being honest? If you’re dishonest with yourself like how I was, it’s going to be a slow, uncomfortable process. But change begins when you’re willing to embrace the fears you avoid facing. Make time for reflection, go for a walk, talk to someone you’re not scared to be honest with, and write down your thoughts over and over and over again.
Sometimes, it can be like today's a shitty day. Everything just feels meh because my life is kinda sad. This is an easy way out because you’re saying to yourself you’re not a part of the problem. But what you really want to recognize is how you didn't take care of your body the day before or how you're scared of committing without assurance.
When I was in uni, I juggled school and work and many things, but it felt purposeless and I was constantly unhappy. But I was half-hearted with everything, and everything made me tired. Sometimes, all I could do at night was watch some tv shows I didn’t even care about because I was void of energy. On other days, I would just lie in bed and think about how I got here. I wasn’t taking responsibility for things I wish I cared more about because it takes time and effort. But meaning came only after committing to things that are not always pleasurable or comfortable, which is how most important things are in life.
I also felt lonely and wasn’t sure if anyone cared about me. It’s somewhat true that you can’t make people like you. But, well, probably I didn't put enough effort into meeting new people and getting to know them because I feared rejection. I grew up with this strong distaste for conflict. And one consequence of that was not a single person disliking me.
I was never the type of person who was talkative at parties. But this is not because I was comfortable being quiet, but because I was worried about saying too much. And, I generally didn’t enjoy small talk and disliked being fake. So I tended to not say anything. I gave more weight to what other people thought of me than what I thought of myself. And the excuse my fear created was I am an introvert, and I am not good at making connections. But as you can realize, that’s not a great way to build any meaningful relationships. Being an introvert is okay, but my intention was to protect myself from getting rejected.
While I am still not great at this kind of thing, I have been trying to be more honest and vulnerable instead of manipulating what others think of me. Our job is to present ourselves as boldly and clearly to the world as possible.
Paying attention to your emotions and fears frees you from identifying with them. It allows you to see them as something you can work with. This attitude might feel like blaming yourself for everything, and there are many things we can’t control, but it's really up to us more than we think.
It feels like an endless and painstaking journey of fixing what's broken. Still, it's through the process you become more resilient, more thoughtful, more honest, and more powerful.