2. What if I struggle and struggle and seem to get nowhere?
There is an alternative to attempting to control our feelings: It is called willingness. Willingness involves experiencing whatever thoughts and feelings show up without fighting against them. It doesn’t mean you have to like the thoughts and feelings. No one likes the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that go with a cancer diagnosis and its treatment.
Here are some direct quotes from people who have received a cancer diagnosis.
“The first thing that goes through your mind, well it did when I was told I had cancer was, ‘am I going to survive’. I think, over the years I am better at dealing with it. I still get emotional. It was the biggest thing I had had to come to terms with and I was losing the plot and I couldn’t get things together”.
“Since being diagnosed I think I have developed every emotion a person can.”
“I am really good when I have friends around, not so good when I am by myself. My thoughts go haywire."
Tug of War metaphor
When we are struggling with difficult emotions it can feel like a ‘tug of war’, especially when we are told that we shouldn’t be feeling like this’.
Trying to control our feelings is like playing tug of war with a monster. It takes a lot of energy and time. We want to pull the monster into the hole and get rid of him forever. But as we have seen, we don't seem to be able to get rid of our unpleasant feelings for very long.
So what is the alternative? We can let go of the rope!
We can take a more compassionate stance towards our inner selves, instead of doing battle. We can let go of the struggle and invite our difficult thoughts and emotions along for the journey.
Once we let go of the rope, we free our hands to do other things. We open up the door to new valued activities.
Almost everything important to us, every valued activity, has some distress associated with it. Maybe we need to be willing to have distress in order to live a life that matters.
The alternative to willingness is to continue to fight with our difficult thoughts and feelings, to waste our energy doing something that hasn't been working anyway. And right when we think we have finally gotten rid of those "bad feelings", what happens?
Willingness is like being on a rollercoaster ride. The ride isn't always pleasant. You have to carry all your unpleasant thoughts and feelings with you in order to take the ride.
Of course you can always get off of the ride. But is that really what you want? What if this ride is your life?