Thirty-six hours after I proposed to Theresa in 2019, I noticed my inner critics, my Innerlings, get loud and ornery. They told me things like that I should be embarrassed to announce my engagement given my previous divorce; they asked me how I had the gall to imagine that I could make a marriage work. And then they criticized me for feeling anxious and upset when Theresa was absolutely radiant with joy. “You’re ruining it for her!” they said.

And so I tried to shut it down. All of it.

I slapped on a smile and tried to pretend it was all okay, that I was as unabashedly pleased as Theresa.

This is what we do when we imagine that we can create a wall our emotions cannot penetrate. Except, emotions are far more resilient than that. So they bounce off the wall and turn into self-recrimination/self-punishment, or lashing out. Or both. Like so:

We want the wall to absorb the feelings but, instead, the feelings are deflected and ultimately amplified.

While some of us have better poker faces than others, while some of us are more practiced at swallowing our emotions than others, these internalized and externalized consequences of attempting to block the flow of our emotions do eventually show.

Three days after the proposal, Theresa tearfully offered to return the ring. Despite the gnawing of these Innerlings of shame and discomfort, there was not even a wee little corner of me that actually thought breaking the engagement was a good idea. Not even my Innerlings wanted that, it seemed.

Instead, I copped to my feelings.

I acknowledged the messages I was being fed. I listened to the Innerlings hurling them at me and got curious about what messages were underlying their accusations and what I needed in terms of nurturing. I started examining where I had and didn’t have control in the whole thing. Like so:

This defies the fear we all have that attending to our uncomfortable emotions will make them worse.

What I discovered were things like that there is a sticky social message that says divorce is wrong and bad and that part of me believes it, even though my conscious self doesn’t. My conscious self says not all relationships last, and that relationships can and often do end without the relationships having been failures. Sometimes, relationships of all sorts just run their course.

I discovered that I had control over who I told about our engagement, and when and how, and that sharing this happy news eased the burden of the Innerling messaging.

I remembered that I didn’t have control over the Innerlings’ yammering or social messaging or anyone else’s reactions… but that I could choose to offer compassion to the part of me that desperately wanted to control all of that.

It’s worth noting that in neither iteration of being with our challenging emotions is there a switch that turns them off. And this is where the practice of acceptance – as in acknowledging the reality of the complexities of being living, breathing humans in the world – starts.

Here it is. An uncomfortable emotion. One of many. With more to come.

Question is, now what?

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