We all have experienced the frustration of expressing a difficult feeling to someone, only to be told: “look on the bright side”. And sometimes we are even the ones telling ourselves that. Sometimes that perspective is helpful. But if you are experiencing recurring anger about the same thing and it doesn’t seem to be going away, consider this:
Before you can move forward, you must first listen to yourself in absolute terms, not in relative terms.
“Absolute” means “not qualified or diminished in any way”.
When we listen to ourselves absolutely, we are choosing not to dismiss ourselves, tell ourselves things aren’t that bad, or take in feedback from others to that effect.
On the other hand, “relative” means “considered in relation to or in proportion to something else”.
When we listen to ourselves in relative terms, we compare our experiences and emotions to others. “Well, it’s not as bad as what happened over here, to this person.” Or “I really can’t complain, because other people have had it way worse.”
It doesn’t matter if someone else in your shoes would see things differently. They are not you and never will be.
Nor does it matter if others have had it worse than you. You usually don’t have to look too far to find someone worse off, it’s true. But when you are experiencing difficult emotions, there is a wound that needs to heal. Listening to yourself in relative terms doesn’t give our wound the light and air it needs to heal.
What the wound needs is for you to honor yourself by recognizing your experience for what it has been to you–to listen to yourself in absolute terms rather than in relative terms.
Listening to yourself absolutely does not mean:
- remaining blind to your own role in a pattern
- perpetually justifying yourself or becoming obsessed with vindication
- or otherwise ignoring the reality that you created and/or are a part of
It means you are being honest with yourself about your feelings. In doing that, you are trusting, rather than wasting energy fighting yourself.
How do you know if it’s time to listen to yourself in absolute terms?
It can never hurt to listen to what you are feeling without adding the weight of comparison. But here are some signs it is time to give this a try.
- You have noticed a pattern with someone in your life that feels unproductive and frustrating
- Your prior efforts to make a situation tolerable are short-lived or do not work at all
- You become angry when someone suggests things could be worse
- You feel guilty for feeling angry because you know it’s true: things could be worse
If you are having a hard time giving yourself that grace, consider this your permission slip from me to you, to feel what you feel, regardless of who has it worse than you and by how much. And consider it permission to sit for a spell with those emotions. When you listen to yourself absolutely, you will know exactly how much time you need there and you won’t spend a moment longer than you need to, I promise.