The Permission to be Human
Positive psychology has been dubbed as the ‘science of happiness’ so it is always easy to be mistaken that people who spread, teach and work on Positive Psychology must be someone who is outgoing, extroverted and happy at all times. In other words, they’re the kind of people who were having some kind of constant high. They are the ones who were excluded from being sad or experiencing painful emotions.
To be honest, that is not the case.
There were two kinds of people who don’t experience painful emotions like disappointment, anger, envy or sadness. First, the psychopaths. The second group of people is dead!
So, if you’re experiencing these painful emotions, it is actually a good sign which means that you’re not a psychopath and you’re ALIVE!
And yet, in our culture today we think that ‘there must be something wrong with me’ when in fact there is something wrong with us if we don’t experience these emotions at times.
The problem is that we don’t give ourselves the permission to be HUMAN. When we don’t allow ourselves to experience the full myriad of human emotions, we’re preventing ourselves from also experiencing the positive emotions.
All emotions flow through the same emotional pipeline and when we block the flow of one set of emotions we’re inadvertently also blocking the other sets. When we block the painful emotions, they are simply intensifying.
As children, we give ourselves the permission to be human but then we get to a certain page when the facade kicks in when we say, “I can’t show these emotions” like it is something bad. We ignore it, we suppress it and we pay a price.
If we watched babies, or saw youtube videos on babies, we could see that most of them can cry out loud at one point but then joyously laugh in a flip of a moment. These are the obvious example of someone who gives himself the ‘permission to be human’.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not that we have to act like them but the important thing is that we need a place in our lives for ‘unconditional acceptance‘. A place where we give ourselves the permission to be human. A place where we can unconditionally treat our humanly emotions.
There is a paradox at play here. The paradox is that when we suppress these painful emotions, they intensified, they become stronger and they are often preventing us from experiencing positive emotions. When we give ourselves the freedom to experience the full range of human emotions, we’re being fully human.
Painful emotion is as much part of human nature as the law of gravity is part of physical nature. Yet, we accept the latter and reject the former and we pay a very high price for it.
‘Permission to be human’ and ‘unconditional acceptance’ is not about ‘passive resignation’. It is not like when you say, “Okay, so I’m jealous or anxious and there’s nothing I can or want to do about it.” Rather, it is about ‘active acceptance’. Accepting the painful emotion and then choosing the most appropriate course of action.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling envy but there may be something wrong with the behavior following on that envy. There’s nothing wrong with feeling fear, nothing cowardly about it. In fact, courage is not about not having fear. Courage is about having fear and then going ahead anyway.
When we suppress these emotions, they control us. If we don’t accept that sometimes we get angry or envious, we’ll begin to see anger and envy all around even though it is not there.
And here is the question that we need to ask ourselves, “Do we give ourselves and others – our family, spouse, friends and colleagues – the permission to be human?“
This is the foundation, the most important pillar of a happy, fulfilling life.