It’s one of the classic self-help exercises: you write a letter to someone you’re furious at, letting them know every little thing that they’ve done wrong. You let it all hang out. You tell them in no uncertain terms how screwed up their behavior was.
And then, you burn it.
There’s a really important reason why you burn the letter–because actually sending it to the person is a shit-stirring maneuver that amplifies the drama. Also, it’s hypocritical (you’re doing to them what you didn’t want done, to you). Finally, it’s point-blank unkind.
To send that letter would be an abuse and mis-use of self-help; it would take the entire point of the exercise, and turn it on its head.
We live in times where self-help is exploding. More and more people are becoming life coaches, and Oprah’s got a channel dedicated to “living your best life.”
And sometimes, because we’re human and fallible, people take the concepts of self-help and abuse and mis-use them, turning what could be medicine inside-out until it’s poison.
The Classic Scenarios
Using “I’m speaking my truth” to tell someone off; to berate, to chastise, to put someone down.
Using “I needed to practice self-care” to get out of a commitment (when the real issue is poor time management and planning). Sadly, life coaches do this all of the time…to other life coaches.
Using “You need to take responsibility for your choices” to take the focus off of yourself, to minimize someone else’s feelings, or to victim-blame.
Using “you should believe that there’s enough for everyone” as a justification for copying (or very closely copying) someone else’s work.
Making a request and saying that there’s no attachment to outcome (the response), and then getting totally pissed when someone says “no,” or deciding to judge them as being selfish (happens all of the time for coaches when someone requests a free product/service/session and if the coach says no, the person making the request acts like the coach is a miserly Scrooge who has issues with sharing).
Getting upset with someone simply because they disagreed with you, declaring that they “don’t support” you or your goals.
Running up a ton of debt on things that you don’t really need, because “it’s important to prioritize feeling good.”
These are all examples of taking a great concept, and twisting it inside-out until it does more harm than good.
Feeling Good or “feeling good”?
There’s “feeling good” and then there’s Feeling Good.
“Feeling good” is all of the above. It’s using “I need to speak my truth” to make someone feel bad…which, if you’re honest, only ever makes you feel…bad.
Then there’s Feeling Good, which uses “I need to speak my truth” as a pivot point for greater clarity and connection in a relationship. Someone might not like it, but when the truth is delivered with kindness, you’ll know in your bones that you can feel proud of what you said.
Of course, anyone reading this has got to be wondering, “Since ‘feeling good’ can be so illusory, how do I know whether or not I’m doing it? And how can I get more Feeling Good happening?”
It’s allll about somatics.
Developing the skill of somatic awareness is a hugely potent super-power. I’ve written about somatic awareness, before .
When you want to know the difference between “feeling good” and Feeling Good, it’s all about how you feel in your body (because your body doesn’t lie).
If I bail on a commitment due to poor planning and find myself telling the person, “I needed to cancel this in order to practice self-care,” I feel like a schmuck as the words are coming out of my mouth.
That’s somatic awareness. It’s knowing that the feeling of being totally out of integrity is actually the worst feeling there is, and that any time I compromise on myself in that department, I’m going to feel awful.
That feeling awful? That’s the sign that my choice is “feeling good” rather than Feeling Good.
While it might be awkward to tell the truth (“I did a poor job of planning my week and now I’m completely overwhelmed, and I’m choosing to cancel because I want to correct that with some self-care. I’m really sorry about that”), it still feels better than the lie of making it seem as if you’re under the knuckle of some unavoidable circumstances.
Feeling Good is actually rooted in taking responsibility for your choices. It’s knowing why you’re making them, grounding in them, owning them wholly and completely.
“Feeling good” is the sucker’s game, the siren song of “Life is hard and owes me something, and it’s hard to face that, so quick! over here! let me ‘feel good’ with this shiny new distraction!”
Just so that we’re clear: it’s your divine birthright to wake up in the morning Feeling Good. It feels good to Feel Good!
Where we get askew with self-help–which is what slants towards abuse and mis-use–is when we get stuck in dogma, using a concept to justify our own behaviors.
Feeling Good isn’t about dogma or justification. Feeling Good is about being in flow with your life.
You won’t know it when you see it–you’ll know it when you Feel it.