Today I felt a familiar sensation rising in my chest. My pulse raised, my muscles tensed. My fists and jaw clenched. It’s not uncommon, it’s a feeing we all feel. But then I did something much less common. I thought to myself, ‘I am angry.’
When unchecked emotion becomes conscious cognition, there is a space for a change. The first internal voice to attend to my revelation tried to soothe the situation. “Anger isn’t going to get you anywhere, only make you feel worse. This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things,” the voice chided.
But the counsellor in me soon took a different tack. Keen to not minimise my emotion but rather welcome it and recognise its cause and its validity, the second voice offered, “it’s ok to be angry. It’s a natural reaction to this situation. All emotions are ok, they just tell us things.”
It was in this moment that I suddenly understood one of the most quoted phrases of Carl Rogers, a phrase I had hitherto found intriguingly puzzling.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
I’ve always been a fighter, a hands on problem solver. If I want a change I go after it with tenacity. No acceptance, just defiant determination.
When the counsellor voice in me attended to my anger, I immediately felt the anger subside. It wasn’t the voice that tried to soothe and coerce myself away from anger which depleted my anger, it was the voice that said, ‘yeah, I get you, I’d be angry too in this situation. Anger is ok right now.’ And so I saw in attending to myself what Rogers learned in attending to a lifetime of clients.
All my thoughts were trying to do was apply a little bit of mindfulness. I didn’t mean to therapise myself, I was just trying to non-judgementally allow myself to be in this moment. It’s amazing what a little loving-kindness towards the self can do. And it’s amazing what accepting feelings, even the ones we’ve been taught are ‘bad’ can lead to. Now I’m beginning to understand. When we accept our emotions just as they are, then they can change.