Please Don’t Tell Me How To Feel

I love people. I love well-meaning people. I love when well-meaning people see what they think is a problem, they try to offer a solution. They care.

But, nothing makes me stop listening or reading or makes me want to punch someone in the face more than a well-meaning person who tells me how to feel. Or how not to feel.

Most of what I’ve written on this blog is a long-winded way of saying “Please don’t tell me how to feel”. Or “I’m gonna feel any way I want.”

When I’m bitter or resentful or jealous or wallowing in self-pity or feeling any of those emotional no-nos, I’m OK. No one is being hurt.

These well-meaning people think they’re saving you from your pain or discomfort. Maybe what’s happening is your feelings are causing them pain. Making them uncomfortable.

Nothing is happening when I’m feeling schadenfreude. I don’t need to be reminded that “empathy is better”. You know I’m able to feel schadenfreude and empathy? One feeling doesn’t negate the possibility of the other. The emotional world is big enough, sturdy enough, for both. Plus, schadenfreude is such a great word. If we eliminated experiencing sour grapes we wouldn’t have the word “schadenfreude”.

Please don’t tell me not to be judgmental. I don’t even know what people mean when they suggest I “don’t be judgmental”. I know it’s English, but it might as well be Mandarin. Judging is behavior that is coded in my DNA. Asking me to stop judging is like asking me to stop breathing.

Do you know there are gifts to being judgmental? Sadie Stein tweeted “I love being wrong about people. It’s the best thing about being judgmental.” I constantly judge and I’m occasionally wrong and there is so much pleasure in being wrong and surprised by people. There needs to be word for that: überraschtvergnügenfalsch. Maybe that will catch on.

Once emotions are voiced, once emotions become actions, there needs to be rules and boundaries about how we speak about what we feel and how we act those feelings out.

But, when the feelings are inside of me they’re mineThere’s power there. There’s magic there. The truth is there. Instead of suggesting someone “doesn’t feel”, what about some gentle curiosity? What about asking if it’s true? To me there is no place for morality in emotions, no superior or better feelings, just truer ones.

Because the world sometimes sucks, I started to feel hopeless the other day. I felt awful: knots in my stomach, a desire to inhale food, imagining a huge lever that when pulled would suck me out of the world into the void. But, I didn’t do anything about my despair. I didn’t eat. I reminded myself that despair is OK but it’s also arrogant and I’m not arrogant. It’s not true. I just felt it until another feeling came along. Feelings come. They go. No need for prescriptions or prohibition.

Whenever some well-meaning person suggests feeling/not feeling something, I think of what Toni Morrison said and she’s perfect so I’ll believe and do what she believes and does:

I want to feel what I feel. What’s mine. Even if it’s not happiness, whatever that means. Because you’re all you’ve got.

So stay out of it, well-meaning people. But thank you for caring.


8 thoughts on “Please Don’t Tell Me How To Feel

  1. Great post . I also hate it when I am feeling noticeably sad, and someone cheerfully advises me to “cheer up and smile, for goodness sake”. I think, thanks for the “advice”, but really it’s my business and my feelings. And I also love the word schadenfreude. I’m not sure that we have anything exactly as expressive as that in the English language.

    I also want to add that I hate it when ppl say that we “create our own reality”. Yes, sometimes we do but other times our experiences are simply blind luck,

    Another great post, Melene! Always great to read your blog!


    1. Oh my God, I can’t stand it when people say “you create your own reality”. It’s like the awful and meaningless “it is what it is”.
      People are trying to help and be supportive but a simple “hmm” is usually enough.


      1. I totally agree, Melene. “It is what it is” … hate that meaningless drivel. I feel like responding by saying “Oh thanks for enlightening me on this point.” Of course, I never do…the words stay in my head.

        I must say it’s always a joy to read your blog. I always feel uplifted when I see a new one from you.


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