I’ve never been a fan of “fake it till you make it”. Being fake is difficult for me. My eyes seem to refuse to cooperate. I can remember my mother recounting one of my elementary school teachers saying to her, “Susan is never disrespectful, but if looks could kill.” Hiding my feelings, even when it is in my best interests is still a struggle.
The phrase also seems to me to have a tone of “suck it up”. As if to say the way we feel doesn’t matter, whereas I believe our feelings are incredibly important. I think the phrase and its usual connotation can be easily wielded as weapons of denial and manipulation.
So when I recently read a suggestion to “act the way you want to feel”, in Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”, I nearly ignored it as a something I’d already tried and found wanting. However, some buried truth kept nagging at me.
I’d encountered something similar in my research as well. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy it is called opposite action. Opposite action is taking an action opposite of the way you are feeling. If you are angry, express empathy. If you feel lonely and sad then socialize, etc.
So I tried it today. I received an email at work that made me feel shamed and angry. There was no denying the way I felt. I was shaky at first. Then I was blessed with a moment of mindfulness and thought, “I’m angry and hurt. What should I do when that happens?” I took a few deep breaths as I thought about it. I couldn’t go outside without appearing suspicious, so I continued down my mental list. Socialize! That I could do without appearing emotional or unprofessional. So I had a brief conversation with a co-worker about my son losing his tooth.
Amazingly I felt better. Then I prayed and felt better yet. Then I thought of several things that eased the sting of the email. This allowed me to really imagine the way I wanted to feel. For me it was to be capable of being honest about my part without being impacted by more personal jabs and to use the negative feelings as motivation to prevent the situation in the future.
I acted as if I was all of those things. All the while fully accepting, without judgement, that I didn’t feel that way. At the end of the day it worked, I maintained my dignity and reputation while honoring my feelings. No matter what happens that victory is mine.