Let me just start by saying that is utter bullshit.
As a therapist, I hear it frequently.
“But it was my fault, so I have no right to be sad.”
“I knew better, so I shouldn’t be this heartbroken.”
“I created this pain, so I don’t know why I’m so upset.”
Why do we think we have no right to feel when we make mistakes, go against our intuition, or choose actions that harm us?
Our feelings are helpful messengers that tell us what we need.
When we do things that harm us or others, our feelings alert us to that fact. They say, “Hey, something is not right here. Pay attention!”
When we listen, we can discern the messages our feelings are giving us. We can learn from the pain, understand why we did what we did, and have a better idea of how to move forward.
A client recently told me that he cheated on his partner. When his partner found out, his partner was furious and decided to end the relationship. My client was devastated. As he cried in session, he said, “I shouldn’t be this upset, it’s all my fault!”
This is exactly the time to feel it all.
When we stuff our feelings or bulldoze our way ahead, we’re more likely to repeat the same patterns.
I’ve known people who felt incredibly guilty for cheating, and then did it again. And again. With the next relationship. And the next.
This does not surprise me.
When we don't let ourselves fully feel the impact of our actions, we are less likely to break the pattern.
Most people don't want to keep cheating or acting in ways that contradict their values and hurt their loved ones.
The first step to accomplishing this is to FEEL the impact of one's actions.
In therapy with my client who had cheated, we explored his feelings of devastation. We explored the needs behind each feeling.
He was consumed with sadness and fear. He needed companionship, security, and consistency. He was losing these things due to the relationship ending.
He was also full of guilt, shame, and despair. He valued loyalty and commitment. He had not remained true to his values.
He was angry. For so long he had been in a difficult relationship where he tried to address things with his partner. He longed to be heard, loved, and understood. He wanted passion and romance. He was angry that now their relationship was solely about his cheating and that it eclipsed all of his unmet needs.
These feelings and the needs behind them were important information about WHY he cheated. Prior to cheating, he recognized that their relationship wasn’t meeting his needs. He FELT it. He tried to address it. When this didn’t help, he still stayed because he was afraid of being alone. He longed for the companionship, security, and consistency of a committed relationship.
When another person came along and temporarily offered the things his relationship was missing (passion, being seen, being valued, etc.), he chose to cheat.
THIS was the information he needed to break the cycle of cheating.
So next time you make a mistake, as we all do, let yourself feel it.
It will be your way through it, and to less missteps in the future.
Thank you for reading. If you'd like help making your way through the feelings,
I'd love to work with you in therapy.