hello darkness, my old friend: on greeting our ick

I don’t like admitting my anxiety. But I feel anxious sometimes.
I don’t like feeling ashamed. But that’s a frequent guest in my house too.
My frustrations and anger are likewise good at exposing themselves in inopportune moments.

So in light of this: here’s my greeting: I spent the beginning of the year feeling guilty. Guilty about putting my one year old into childcare – and not one, but two days a week. He’s also with my in-laws another day per week which gives me 3 whole days a week where I’m being a terrible mother guys. I’m not home with him (enough) thus I’m making a bad choice and also setting a bad foundation for his early start. Anyone want to judge me? Go ahead. I deserve it. That has been my ick.

OF course I can understand from a logical standpoint that this isn’t the case, of course. This post is not about debating the merits and strengths of being a working or stay at home mum. Both are valid and necessary for different people and in different contexts.

But I still feel guilty. It’s uncomfortable. And the worst thing is I can’t do anything to alleviate or solve the problem. because the situation is probably not going to change any time soon. I hate it.

Anyone with me? I hate it when I can’t solve a problem straight away. No thankyou.

But here’s the rub.

Even if I could solve the problem,

solving the problem doesn’t solve the problem….

…of how I feel about myself.

Our attempts at alleviating the issues we deal with is perhaps not the thing we need to do first.

There will always be things to feel angry, anxious, fearful, apathetic, guilty, ashamed of. And likewise, there may be many different ways to change our situation. But they’re probably not quick fixes.

One of the most important – perhaps the most important things we need to do with our

anger
anxiety
fear
apathy
guilt
shame
ick,

all of it,

is to greet it.

Speak its name.

It is as simple, and as hard, as that.

Our ick doesn’t get more powerful in the acknowledgement: rather, the opposite occurs. When we greet our ick, it materialises in a more helpful form, as we as people can appreciate its limits, its core, of what it is, and what it is not.

There’s a scene in one of the Harry Potter books where students are taught a spell to hold off a powerful enemy who feeds off their fear: Students were asked to acknowledge what they feared the most, and through it, were given the power to make that fear ridiculous, dispelling its might.

The power of saying
“I feel this” – and not leaping away from that acknowledgement – is the most powerful action we can take in knowing ourselves. We can then ask questions of the fear/anxiety/ anger – & ourselves – to unpack and distil it.

Research is growing around the real impact that naming emotions can have. Not only can it help in down-regulating emotions (Kircanski, Lieberman& Craske, 2012), but it has a consistent and positive effect on health and psychological states (Frattaroli, 2006). In children, emotion regulation is a major asset in helping them navigate inevitable stressors (see great article here by Chowdhury, 2021 on definitions and strategies on emotion regulation in children and adults). These studies affirm what I have seen in my own life: when we have language and a framework – and we are given opportunities to use them – it not only enables us to grasp our present realties with greater clarity, but it gives us the power to imagine the what-is-next.

The challenge, thus is twofold. In the ick, greet it. This is helpful and healthy and NEEDED and entirely valid.

The second part is perhaps even harder: allowing the ick to be witnessed. This can be a terrifying prospect. We feel stupid and vulnerable and weak in the acknowledgement. But not only does it increase the opportunity of someone sharing your pain, but the opportunity for solidarity with others can be one of the greatest gifts we ever receive – or give.

Thus lastly, If you are have the privilege of witnessing someone’s ick, our first impulse cannot be to fix it – if we are in the mire, a front-forward solution approach can actually feel like a dismissal or a smothering – despite the good intentions of you as friend/parent/sibling/spouse. This is not to say that there is never the time to move towards solution, but this cannot be our first impulse. It is unhelpful. Timing is everything. Instead, I would invite you to first, give someone the gift and space of a quiet witness.

Greet the ick, friends. The honesty may grant a – even brief – respite in return.

xx

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