The Emotional Guidance Scale is there to help you, so don't beat yourself up when you have negative emotion. Just pay attention to it!
This article was originally written and published on Medium on August 21, 2021.
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The following post is something I wrote after having an epiphany about the purpose of complaining, before I really even knew what the emotional guidance scale was. I've learned a lot more since then, and I better understand the value of positive emotion, but I think this story is a great example of not beating yourself up over negative emotion. Hopefully it will help you, too!
My Habit of Complaining
Not too long ago, I was lying in bed with my husband and decompressing from the day. And by that, I mean that as I complained about how hard it is being a stay-at-home-mom while also trying to actively write and also trying to run a small side hustle, our 2-year-old was jumping on the bed between us and throwing stuffed animals at my face.
(And let's be real, being a SAHM is hard enough even without the writing and side hustle goals.)
My husband looked at me with an exasperated sigh. This was not the first time we’d had this conversation. Honestly, it had sort’ve become a ritual for me. As soon as he walked into the house I felt the need to word vomit. And since my life kinda looks the same every day, I generally said the same things over and over again.
The kids won’t stop fighting with each other. It’s hard to keep the house clean with so many people making messes. Our toddler is too clingy. I am so tired of being touched. Why do they have to be so loud? How am I supposed to run a business when I can’t even hear myself think? I don’t feel like making dinner again… and so on.
His response shocked me.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” my husband said. "It feels like you just want permission to be overwhelmed."
I felt struck. I dropped my head against the pillow, my skin burning as though I’d been slapped across the face. Have you ever been that startled by the truth?
He hadn’t said anything intentionally hurtful or wrong. He was just being extremely honest at a time when I was not prepared for it. And then it hit me. (Pun not intended.)
That was exactly why I was complaining. I wanted permission to be overwhelmed. I wanted someone to look at all the evidence I had presented and tell me it was okay that I couldn’t handle it all, that I wasn’t a failure, because handling it all was an unreasonable request.
At first this epiphany made me feel ashamed and weak. I wondered, when did I become this person who complained all the time?
The Emotional Guidance Scale is there to help.
I have always been a driven person, a person who took immense pride in being an overachiever. I was the girl who worked two jobs in high school while also taking early college classes and graduating as the valedictorian of my class. I was the person who got shit done, not the person who sat around whining about how hard it all was.
And that’s when I realized my new compulsion to complain was not some evil thing, not some terrible part of me I should be ashamed about. That part of me was motivated from a place of compassion.
The Complainer was saying IT’S TOO MUCH. It’s too much and I’ll keep pointing out why it’s too much over and over and over until you grasp that fact, until you give yourself PERMISSION to not keep trying to do it all. I will keep going until you finally hear yourself and change something.
I've heard Abraham Hicks say several times that your Inner Being doesn't always sound like angels and harps playing. Sometimes it sounds like revenge, if that's the next step on the emotional guidance scale.
The Complainer refused to suffer in silence.
Before I was a complainer, I was a person who kept her uncomfortable feelings buried deep inside. When they piled up too much and began to fester, I would physically cut myself to relieve the pressure. Using a small razor, one little mark at a time, I would let the ugly feelings ooze out just a bit, and then I would seal the wound and go back to pretending I wasn’t walking around with the sludge of unresolved issues rotting away at my insides.
I lived like that for years until the Complainer said, Enough.
The Complainer was brave enough to talk about my fears and frustrations instead of trying to ignore them with the false hope they’d go away on their own. The Complainer was willing to admit I was doing too much, which is a pretty big deal for a recovering perfectionist.
The Complainer loves me.
It's just a symptom.
This realization doesn’t mean that I intend to do nothing but bitch about my problems from now on or that I’m destined to lead a life drenched in negativity. On the contrary, I see the purpose of the Complainer and have to allow it to do its job — get my attention — so I can live in a much lighter, happier atmosphere.
I’m a believer in positive affirmations and the power of words and gratitude and all that, so in the past I was quick to be disappointed in myself for complaining. Now I understand that the complaining was just a symptom, not the actual problem, in the same way that pain in your foot is a symptom of a piece of glass being stuck in it, whereas the glass is the actual problem.
You can get mad at the pain, but the pain is there to help. The pain sends you a message that something’s wrong. Otherwise you may never look at the bottom of your foot and you’ll bleed to death.
(Shout out to the middle school teacher who taught me that important concept.)
I realize this may seem like an obvious concept. Of course complaining means something is wrong. Duh. You don’t complain when you’re happy.
Why are you venting?
My point is that the next time you find yourself in the midst of venting, pay attention to what you’re really saying, especially if you find yourself saying it a lot. Don’t beat yourself up for being a negative person. Instead, show yourself some compassion and figure out what you actually need.
Maybe it’s time to lower your standards in certain areas or do some reprioritizing. Or maybe you just need a little encouragement. Hey you, what you’re doing is hard, but you’re doing it and I’m proud of you. Sometimes you just have to be your own empathetic witness.
Think of this the next time someone is complaining to you, too. Chances are, they’re not looking for a solution. They just want someone to give them permission to feel overwhelmed …or sad or scared or angry. Maybe they’re a Negative Nelly — or maybe they just want permission to let go of or change something.
Use the Emotional Guidance Scale to keep moving up.
It’s unfortunate that some people get trapped at the complaining stage, when it’s a really meant to be a stepping stone to the next stage, not a place you’re supposed to dwell forever. Gratitude is a fantastic antidote to complaining, and I highly recommend it, but so is self-compassion. If you want to experience growth, you can’t suppress the negative feelings and just layer them with positivity. You have to deal with and purge out the icky stuff. (Shadow work, anybody?)
Remember, the real reason you complain is because you love yourself enough to know you deserve better. That’s a good thing. The question is will you move to the next step of giving yourself what you deserve?
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