She wrote the book How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t and she speaks from experience. These days she coaches people using the Brené Brown method and has some twenty thousand followers on Instagram. Here are the seven most important insights according to Andrea Owen.
Take responsibility for your own happiness
“I spent years thinking it was my job to explain to other people how they’d be a lot happier if they changed. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t get it: they’d be much happier if they just started behaving like I thought they should. But I forgot to look at myself.
The thing is, you’ll never get total control over other people’s behavior and the decisions they make. All you can do is know what is important for you, and show the best you’ve got in any given situation. Learn not to avoid the difficult conversations, but also to draw the line. Say what you have to say without turning nasty or starting a fight or becoming too demanding. Be kind, be honest. That’s taking responsibility for your own happiness.”
Find help for traumas and addictions
“Almost everyone has been through tough times in their childhood, with one or two actually traumatic experiences because they were too young to know how to deal with them. Things like important people dying, or disease, or sexual abuse. We often tend to play down our own bad experiences when we compare them to other people’s that seem much worse. But everything that happened to you when you were too young to have the skills to process it is a trauma. And you really need to get help from a good therapist, because it will not go away by itself. You bring your traumas into every new relationship. You end up in negative behavioral patterns again and again because you keep expecting subconsciously that the thing that happened before will happen again. So you try to protect yourself, and you end up doing it in a way that doesn’t work, that isn’t healthy – for example numbing your feelings with drink or drugs or pills.
I grew up not wanting to feel any of the difficult things like pain and sadness. But the danger is that they transform into anger. Anger is always based on pain. Something or someone has hurt you and you get angry, you attack, you accuse someone or you get nasty. It’s a good idea to do something about that pain instead of pushing it away. You could try some inner child work, or talk to someone you feel safe enough with to tell the whole story. I myself did EMDR and it worked great for me. I used to be pretty skeptical about emotional work with the body; I preferred processing my problems with my mind. But your body holds on to emotional pain and remembers psychological wounds. So you drag them along with you your entire life if you’re not careful.
When I had gone through a tough divorce, emotional body work was a tremendous help to me. I had lost not only my husband but also his children. They had been my family for thirteen years. I had to process all that loss and it was very hard for me to learn to feel the pain. That’s why I had the word ‘surrender’ tattooed on my arm, because that is what I had to do. As soon as I was able to surrender to it, everything changed. It turned out feeling the pain was easier than trying to fight it all the time.”
Know your values
“Your values are a map of your life, or a kind of compass. You want to be proud of who you are. A simple way to start would be by asking yourself: what is important to me in my life?
Suppose your answer is: ‘I love cooking nice dinners and eating with my friends.’ I’d say your value is your creativity, your ability to use your hands. Friendship and connection are also important to you: you have great dinner conversations that way.
Values are never about objects. It’s not about the fantastic food and the beautifully set table, it’s always about the experience you create. Always. Even for people who say: I want a million dollars and a Mercedes. Fine, a lot of people want that, but what you’re probably after is financial stability, safety and status, that kind of thing. And under those there’s an even deeper layer of meaning: being part of it, belonging. We all want to be valued, to know that we matter, to know we have a purpose. So always look for the deeper layer.”
Make sure you have friends who know how to listen
“We humans were not designed to do everything alone, we’re geared for connection. It’s just better for our brain. I’m not just talking about the friends to whom you can brag about all the things you have and do. I’m talking about people you can talk to about the tough stuff. People who are there for you when you are in pain, without offering solutions or advice right away. People who never tell you ‘it could be worse’, or ‘you shouldn’t take it so seriously’; people who don’t start talking about themselves and how hard it is for them.
I’m sure we’ve all done this to others – I confess I have. Like when I said to someone I loved who was going through a tough time: ‘Don’t feel too bad about it. Have you tried this or that?’
If you’re keen to offer advice, check first if it will be appreciated. Say something like: “I could make a suggestion, but tell me what you need.” Or don’t do it, don’t give advice, just say: “That sounds difficult and painful. I don’t know what to say, but I’m really glad you’re confiding in me. Thank you for that.” That’s the kind of friendship I mean.
There are even scientific studies that say it’s good for your health to have friendships like that; they help you heal. So nurture your friendships.”
Be careful how you talk to yourself
“The thoughts that go through your head all day long can be positive or negative. ‘I’ll never make as much money as she does.’ ‘I’ve grown so fat now that I might as well stop exercising.’ ‘Look at that old, wrinkly face.’ ‘How did I get that wrong? I’m such an idiot.’ And so on and so forth. Many people don’t even know they’re doing this, it’s become second nature. For women, their bodies and their looks are the number one reason for talking about themselves, and to themselves, in negative terms. But it really damages your self-esteem and self-respect. Your thoughts turn into your convictions. So if you keep telling yourself you’re ugly, or too stupid to get ahead in the world, you’ll really start to believe it. And then you’ll find proof for it everywhere, even if it’s completely untrue.”
Know your weak spots
“Some situations are triggers: when they occur, you automatically fall into a pit of fear, doubt, self-hatred or embarrassment. Look into that, learn about yourself in situations like that; you cannot cure something you’re not aware of.
My first husband cheated on me and that was the end of our marriage. So that became a very sensitive spot for me: when will he start cheating on me? I have a new husband now and he is as true and faithful as anything. But every time he is even 15 minutes late, I get scared. This is my trigger, it touches a raw nerve. I feel my blood pressure go up, and when he finally gets home I sometimes yell at him for no reason. It’s not fair to him – this was my trigger. Once you are aware of this mechanism, you can come back and say: ‘I’m sorry, it made me insecure when you were late, but you have done nothing wrong. It’s my fault and I just want to say it out loud, to get it out in the open.’
What if you really feel that he is seeing someone else? How can you know whether it’s intuition or trigger? In my first marriage, my intuition told me my husband was cheating on me. And in this marriage I run into triggers that make no sense at all. The difference is: a trigger sends your thoughts round and round in circles: ‘Oh, here we go again, he’s got someone else, we’ll have to get divorced now…’ Your mind goes apeshit. But intuition is calm and quiet, it whispers in your ear. It doesn’t make you sweat or tremble. You just know.”
Learn to feel your emotions and deal with them
“When my father died in 2016 I was so sad that it scared me: would I ever be able to stop crying, would I ever get my brain back? It was overwhelming. But then I told myself: ‘Okay, this is simply my body processing certain information. My father has died, he was terribly important to me, I will never see him again and that is incredibly painful and hard. So my body needs to deal with that one way or another, and it’s called grief. It’s as simple as that.’ It helped me to let my body just do what it wanted to do: cry.
So I give my children lots of space to feel their emotions. We sometimes tend to tell our children: don’t be sad, don’t be angry, come on, it’s no big deal…. but I’ve stopped doing that.
Difficult feelings are often regarded as negative or bad. But every human being will experience a huge variety of emotions in their lives: happiness, joy, fear, shame, humiliation, fury, anger, disappointment, frustration… There’s no way you can go through life with pleasant feelings only. So I tell my children: ‘Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay, it’s in your body and it’s okay to let it out. You’re still responsible for your behavior, you can’t do bad things, and if you do them anyway you have to make amends and say sorry. But it’s totally okay to feel what you feel.’
I wasn’t raised that way myself, but this is how I do it now. Your body sweats, coughs, yawns… and has emotions. Emotions are simply a way for your body to look after itself.”
Text: Lisette Thooft
This article is part of our issue 21 ‘Practice Peace’
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