Dealing with People: Resolving Conflict and Fostering Connection.

I’m a fairly idealistic person at the best of times, but let’s face it: conflict is an inevitable part of life. We are all unique individuals with a unique set of needs, goals, desires, dreams and wishes in life. Whether it’s with your friends, family, spouses, bosses or colleagues, in any situation or context, there are going to be times when your needs and the other person’s needs are in conflict. It’s great when you can see eye to eye with the people who are around you, but what do you do when you want to eat Chinese for dinner but your partner wants burgers? Or when you want to design your website this way, but your colleague wants to design it that way? Or when you have strong opinions about how you want to live your life, but your parents have opposing views? Some conflict may be for BIG things, and some conflict may be for small things. Regardless of whether it’s big or small, there is great benefit in gaining skills in interpersonal effectiveness so that you have a way of communicating and asserting your needs to those around you effectively, but without damaging your relationship with them. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my thoughts on this topic and shed some light on how I have learned to resolve conflict effectively in my own life.

What is the importance of human relationships? Why do we need people anyway?

I guess the first thing I wanted to talk about is why maintaining a good relationship with others is so important.

%22We all need somebody to lean on%22Bill Withers

For our survival

As human beings, we are social creatures. It’s pretty simple, really. Humans need each other. We are highly dependent on others for our survival. Nearly everything we have in our life is made possible with the help of others – even life itself! There is no such thing as life without connection. Cooperation therefore gives us greater survivability. When people effectively cooperate with each other, great things can happen – we can go to the moon, advance science and medicine and be successful in our business ventures.

For our creativity

All of our current ideas, knowledge, tools and skills come from billions of years of interactions, relationships, exchanges, conversations, art and books. Our creativity would be stifled without other people. Other people can inspire us to achieve things that we may not have ever aspired to on our own! True learning doesn’t just come from reading textbooks and applying our knowledge – it also comes from learning the art of interacting effectively with people. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve learned more about human beings through the experience of interacting with them than what I ever did in my 6+ years of reading about them in academic journals and textbooks at university.

To meet our emotional needs

People play a crucial role in our lives – they make us smile, cry, laugh and think. Our interactions with others grow us. Having people around you that care about you can be a great source of strength and resilience. We also know that when people lack meaningful close relationships with others, they suffer. Being lonely therefore also creates a risk for developing mental health issues. We have a basic psychological need to feel connected to others. The research in this area suggests that people who have close relationships are healthier, less stressed and have a higher life expectancy than those who don’t. Close relationships also boost our immune systems! So, your family, friends, partners and community can all help you to live a richer, fuller and more satisfying life.

You can need people without being needy

Just because we need people, it doesn’t mean we have to be needy.

Needing others doesn’t make you needy. Western culture and society bombards us with this idea that we can be “self-made” individuals, that we can solve our own problems, remain emotionally detached and live completely independently without any help or support from others. It’s the classic “dream” and it’s used as justification to push people away. You know what? I call BULLSHIT on this. Maintaining a façade of complete control and independence isn’t strength of character; it’s avoidance – pure and simple. Anyone can shut other people out and pretend to be ok on their own, but it takes much more strength and courage to be vulnerable and transparent with others. No one is self-made! We live our stories together, and our stories become more meaningful and purposeful when they are shared with each other.

We live our stories together

It’s also true that some people need closeness, intimacy, attachment and love more than others, but in general we all need close and caring relationships. Personally, I’m an introvert by nature, so I get my energy from being alone or in smaller groups. Being in large crowds of people or spending too much time around others can be energetically depleting for me, whereas extroverts tend to want to spend more time around others, as they get their energy from being around other people.

Being needy, on the other hand, is when you don’t take responsibility for your own self-worth and wellbeing. It’s when you see yourself as the victim and blame others or your life circumstances. It’s self-judgment that creates the emptiness that leads to the neediness. So stop judging yourself! When you’re empty of self-love you expect others to “fill” you with their attention, love and approval. When your intent is to learn to love yourself and others and to learn to fill your own cup then you are better able to pour into others’ cups. This comes from an authentic need to share love and connect with others rather than a need to feel wanted. We need to connect with others, but we can’t do so when we are disconnected from ourselves. So forgive yourself first; show yourself compassion and kindness first. You will be way more likely to find the courage to ask for forgiveness from others when you can forgive yourself first.

To understand and connect with others we have to be open to learning about loving ourselves and others. To open up a genuine connection and sharing of love with others, we also have to open our hearts to taking responsibility for ourselves.

The importance of Empathy

We are able to successfully interact with and connect with others when are able to understand their feelings. To empathise with someone means to imagine being in their shoes and to try to understand how they might be feeling and perceiving the situation. Our ability to empathise with others falls on a spectrum. Some people are better able to empathise than others, but sometimes emotions can get in the way. Fleeting emotions, such as anger or fear, reduce our ability to empathise with others.

I would strongly argue that a lack of empathy is usually the root cause of most conflicts. Empathy erosion occurs when people fail to attend to the feelings, interests, thoughts, opinions and ideas of others. Narcissists, for example, are only able to see the world in relation to their own needs and desires. Narcissists do not see the intrinsic value of other people.

Fear and trauma can sometimes also create barriers in interpersonal effectiveness. When you have been repeatedly hurt, bullied or invalidated in your life, your defences are naturally going to be a lot more sensitive and reactive. When you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, you are conditioned to protect yourself against any further danger or threat – so things that are perhaps not such a big deal to others, may be perceived as a great big deal and major threat to you.

You can be a lover and a fighter

Learn how to be a Lover and a Fighter.

Some people think that in order to get along with others we have to always put their needs before our own. This is not true! You don’t have to subjugate your needs, be a passive people-pleaser or a doormat so that people will like you. In fact, people will probably like and respect you more if you are not always agreeing with everything they say, want and do. The good news is that it’s possible to be a lover and a fighter. It’s possible to assert yourself and your needs without damaging relationships. It’s all about the approach.

Get to know yourself and your needs first.

Understanding yourself is the first step. The more you can understand yourself and your own needs, the better able you will be to communicate them effectively with others. What is it that you want or need from this interaction? Can you meet this need for yourself, or is it something you need from someone else? Why do you need it? What do you have to do to get this thing that you want? Where does the need come from? Observe and describe your thoughts. Be curious about what you feel and need.

Notice and manage your judgment

Try to observe, but don’t evaluate. Take a non-judgmental stance with yourself, but also with others. Try to detach your opinions from the facts of the situation. Try to see the situation for what it is. And when you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging! Let go of any vengeance, anger and righteousness that hurts you, and most importantly doesn’t even work! Stay away from thoughts of “right”, “wrong”, “should”, “should not”, “fair” and “unfair”

Preserve the relationship with the other person

 Act in such a way so that the other person will still like and respect you. Balance your immediate goals with the good of the long-term relationship. Remind yourself of why maintaining this relationship is important to you, both now and into the future. Ask yourself, how do you want the other person to feel about you after this interaction is over? What do you have to do to keep this relationship intact?

Preserve the relationship with yourself

Respect your own values and beliefs. Act in a way that is in line with your values and that makes you feel moral. Ask yourself how you want to feel about yourself after this interaction is over? What do you have to do to ensure you will feel this way? What will work?

Be dialectical

When you are using dialectical thinking, you are embracing the idea that there is always more than one true way to see a situation and more than one true opinion, idea, thought or dream. Two things that seem like (or are) opposites can both be true! Dialectics teaches us that all people have something unique, different, and worthy to teach that and all points of view have both true and false within them. You may be right, but the other person may be right also. Look for what is left out of your understanding of the situation. Open up to expanding your way of seeing things. Avoid assumptions and blaming. Get unstuck from conflicts and stand-offs. Find a way to validate the other person’s point of view. Let go of “black and white” thinking – bring a greater sense of flexibility to the way you see things.

In a conflict situation, it can be helpful to remember the DEARMAN GIVE FAST acronym from Dialectical and Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

Describe: Describe the current situation and what you are reacting to. Just stick to the facts.

Express: Express how you are feeling about the situation.

Assert: Assert yourself, asking clearly for what you want or saying no clearly. Assume that others cannot read your mind. Assume that others will not figure it out themselves unless you ask and don’t expect others to understand how hard it is for you to ask.

Reinforce: Reinforce or reward the person ahead of time by explaining the consequences. Tell them the positive effects of getting what you want or need and tell them the negative effects of not getting it. Show gratitude to that person ahead of time for doing or accepting what you want.

Stay Mindful: Keep your focus on the objective. Maintain your position and don’t be distracted.

Appear confident: Appear effective and competent. Use a confident voice, make eye contact, speak clearly and don’t whisper.

Negotiate: Be willing to give to get. Be willing to compromise and ask for alternative solutions.

Be Gentle: Be gentle, courteous and temperate in your approach. No attacks, no threats, no judging.

Act Interested: Listen to the other person’s point of view, opinions, reasons for saying no, or reasons for making a request of you. Don’t interrupt or talk over them. Be sensitive to the other person’s desire to have the discussion at a later time. Be patient!

Validate: Validate or acknowledge the other person’s feelings, wants, difficulties, and opinions about the situation.

Use an Easy Manner: Use a little humour. Smile. Ease the person along. Be light-hearted. Remember that you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Be Fair: To yourself and the other person.

No Apologies: No overly apologetic behaviour. No apologising for being alive or for making a request at all. No apologising for having an opinion or for disagreeing.

Stick to Values: Stick to your own values!

Be Truthful: Don’t lie, act helpless when you are not, or exaggerate. Don’t make up excuses.

Forgive yourself first

How I deal with conflict: My own journey in forgiveness

In my own life, I don’t always deal with conflict perfectly. I’ve found that using some of the principles from DBT in my own interactions with others has improved my life tenfold. We don’t realise how much negative energy we carry around with us when we are actively engaging in regular conflicts with others. Holding grudges against others is also pointless. Sometimes it means having to be the bigger person to apologise. Apologising doesn’t mean the other person is right, it just means I have more room in my heart for forgiveness, compassion and kindness. And regardless of what someone else has “done” to me, forgiving them creates more space in my life for peace and contentment. No one else is responsible for my life or how I feel. Only I own my own feelings so nobody can “make” me feel a certain way.

I’ve always believed in forgiveness. I was raised that way. I’ve always forgiven people for the hurt they have caused me to feel, no matter how major. The reason for this is because I recognise that other people are not actually responsible for what I feel. Nobody causes another person to hurt. Even if you had killed my entire family, you would still not be responsible for my feelings. The only person responsible for how I feel is me, and in order to be able to move forward after a conflict, I need to claim responsibility for my own feelings and actions. Likewise, I am not responsible for any anger or resentment that other people feel toward me. I am also not responsible for their actions, only they are, and vice versa.

I see my own parents, who’ve been married for 30 years, and the most important lesson I have learned from them is that people make mistakes, and sometimes, those mistakes lead to people hurting as a consequence. Yet, despite all the mistakes in the world, one thing has remained constant, and that is the fact that they care about each other and are able to appreciate each other for their positive and negative attributes. There are probably times when they don’t love each other. In fact, there are probably times when they hate each other too! But, they never stop caring. It’s not about giving people chances… it’s about recognising that everyone is on their own journey in life, and that during that journey, there will be many lessons to learn. Friendships and relationships are about attempting to walk down that journey together. The problem, however, is that in attempting to walk that journey there will still be individual lessons to be learned. Ideally you would want be able to learn from others’ lessons and therefore continue down that journey together… but often the individual lessons become a priority and the path splits into two. However, even when that path splits, there is still opportunity for it to meet at a crossroads again in the future and continue where it left off, but that can only happen if people choose to continue walking down the same path together. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to do that.

In my life, I have walked down paths with many people, and there have been times when those paths have split and then met at a crossroads again. I have learned a lot about others and myself in going down those paths, and I still have much to learn on my own path in life. I have learned to heal from hurt by finding meaning and making sense of the things that have happened on my journey. It helps me to understand why things have happened the way they have, to learn from it and to forgive myself.

I hope this post has shed some light on your interactions with people and helped you understand that it’s possible to be a lover and a fighter. Feel free to share your thoughts with me!


Authenticity: How your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe.


Being authentic, owning your own story and taking responsibility for your life requires you to let go of seeking approval from others for your life choices, opinions, style, taste and quirks. This is really bloody hard to do, for most people.

Being true to yourself means you must listen to the voice that comes from within that tells you what you like and don’t like and then follow through with that by communicating it, both to yourself and to others.

Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we'll ever do.Brené Brown

It’s really tricky because we all want to connect with others and be liked, but yet, if you constantly chase for other people’s approval, you are compromising your own needs and doubting yourself, which leads to you feeling fragmented. It also undercuts the conviction of your overall message or assertion and leads to other people also doubting you. When you are constantly trying to win fans by giving them what they want, your sense of identity starts to disintegrate. Your identity is what makes you unique and special and is ironically the very thing that will make people like you. It’s that perfect combination of personality traits, opinions, views, style and quirks that makes you, you.

Just be yourself.Let people see the real, imperfectflawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magicalperson that you are.-Mandy Hale.

Authenticity fosters connection. When you have the courage to be yourself, it gives others permission to do the same. It’s nice, and it’s all well and good if you like yourself enough to do that in the first place. However, most people, at some point in their lives, go through the battle of wanting to be authentic, but also wanting the approval of their peers. High school is the typical time when this happens, but it can also happen during other points in your life. Most people have experienced some kind of rejection or criticism, and if it happens that it’s been repeated or consistent, it may starts to erode your self-esteem and confidence. It may start to impact on and change the story that you have formed about yourself. You may start to see yourself through the eyes of your haters instead of through the eyes of your fans. You may start to question and doubt your opinions and you may even try to change yourself to fit in with what you think is more likeable or acceptable. The voice inside of you that tells you what you like and don’t like may start to fade and become softer and quieter and you may even stop listening to it altogether. Indeed, you may even start to become preoccupied by all the things you have said or done, and become hypercritical of yourself. Basically, you may start to lose yourself and feel depressed and anxious because you’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. You may have gained yourself a few friends or fans along the way, but the constant appeasing and accommodating is so exhausting, and the connections you have made feel so fake and inauthentic anyway. A crowd of people may surround you, but you feel so alone and empty and it sucks.

One thing I’ve realised in my own life and experience is that not everyone is going to like me. In fact, quite a significant chunk of people don’t like me, and that’s ok. It used to really bother me when I was younger, probably because I didn’t rate myself that highly back then. I really, really, really wanted to be liked, but I also really, really, really wanted to be liked for being me. I was too strong-willed to want to change myself to be the version that other people wanted me to be. Besides, as much as you can try and fit yourself in to be what you think people want or need, it’s impossible to maintain over time; eventually, your true self shines through the façade. What I realised over the years is that the more and more I started to like myself and was comfortable to show my authentic self, the more and more I was able to attract people into my life who were more like me. My vibe was attracting my tribe, so to speak. It was awesome. I realised that I didn’t need to be anyone but myself to be liked. Instead of focusing on my imperfections and trying to change them, I realised that my flaws were perfect for the hearts that were meant to love me. The more I gave myself unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the more I started to attract other people into my life who did. The more I validated my own feelings, the more other people did.


The point of this story is to share that sometimes we forget that we are all unique and special, and that instead of constantly trying to fit in or be liked, sometimes you just need to be yourself and have faith that the right people will come into your life and accept you for being that perfect combination of unique that makes you, you. When you do things from your soul, other people really dig that shit. So, let yourself be flawed, fuck perfection, fall in love with your life – all of it, and learn to celebrate yourself and love the crap out of yourself! If you want to find out more about how to do that, stay tuned.

How to Find Success in Whatever You Choose to Do


BeI often get people telling me how “lucky” I am that I have found success in my chosen career, that I get to do what I love, and that I get to choose the hours I work. Here’s a little secret: my “success” doesn’t come down to luck at all! It was an active choice and commitment, and one that I worked really bloody hard for. I thought I would share a few of my insights and reflections on success, and some ideas about how to be successful in whatever you choose to do.

Define what success means to you.

For some people, success means that they have a job that pays the bills, a roof over their head and food in their belly. For some people, success means they get to do what they love. For some people, success means being famous or having a certain amount of followers, subscribers or readers. For some people, success means earning a certain amount of money. For some people, success means getting a certain qualification. For some people, success means helping people or creating meaningful change in the world.

It’s really important to define what success actually means for you and to have a way of measuring your success. It might be based on monetary gain, it might be based on how it makes you feel, it might be a piece of paper, a publishing deal, a measure of popularity or it might be a combination of the above. It’s also really important that you define what success means to you because you need to know what you’re aiming for. It gives you a sense of direction and focus. It creates a specific and targeted goal to work towards. You may wish to also break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks or goals. As you meet certain benchmarks along the way, you may wish to then adjust your goal(s) accordingly.

While I was studying at uni, there were many times when I felt like giving up. It’s no secret that becoming a psychologist is a long and arduous journey with many hoops to jump through along the way. What kept me going was reminding myself of why I started in the first place. I wanted to understand myself better which in turn would help me understand others better and therefore hopefully help them. I also wanted to create meaningful change in the world and to give my suffering some purpose. Sounds a bit cheesy, egocentric and idealistic, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. The other major thing that kept me going was that I’d shared my goals with my late grandpa, who’d always encouraged me to pursue my academic dreams, and it was one of his dying wishes for me to complete my university education. This leads me on to the next important point, which is to….

Write down and share your goals!

According to a study by Gail Matthews, writing your goals down as well as sharing them with others, was shown to increase the chances of achieving them. As well as giving you a specific, measurable target or benchmark to work toward, writing your goals down or sharing them with others also gives you an action commitment and a sense of accountability. Seems pretty obvious to do this, but how many times have you set New Years Resolutions and then forgotten all about them a few weeks later? Write your goals down and check in with yourself every few months to see how you’re tracking.

Success isn’t a destination.

While I am quite content with where I am right now, I am one of those annoyingly ambitious and goal-driven people that dreams, believes and achieves. The sky’s the limit. If I want my dream job, I get it. If I want to write a thesis, I write a thesis. If I want to start a blog, I start one. Success is a journey, not a destination, so why place limits on yourself? It’s not about being insatiable; it’s about aspiring to be the best you can be. You can certainly accept yourself for where you are right now, but still work toward your next big dream or goal. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful and proud for all that I have already achieved, but I still have so much more that I want to achieve, and I truly believe that I will.

Persistence – “just keep swimming”.

If you really, really, really want something, you have to be prepared to put in the hard work. This means that you must persist! No matter what challenges, hurdles or barriers that you may have to face along the way, you MUST persist because persistence really is one of the most important keys in finding success. Keep going! Don’t stop! Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Even if it is at a snail’s pace, it doesn’t matter! Life isn’t a race, so take it at your own pace, but just keep going! Or, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, “just keep swimming”.

Just-Keep-SwimmingImage Source

Having said that, make sure you’re swimming in the right direction! If you find that you’re no longer swimming in the direction you want to be swimming in then stop. Figure out which direction you need to be going in, and change your course. It’s one thing to be persistent, and another to be stubborn and unwilling to admit when you’ve made a poor choice or chosen the wrong path. It’s ok to re-evaluate your goals and change your mind about things.

Sometimes we have goals, but then when we actually dive in and pursue them we realise they were not right for us. That’s ok too! Sometimes it takes more strength and courage to recognise when it’s time to give up and walk away than to continue fighting a losing battle. It shouldn’t be that hard. You don’t have to stay in a job you hate, a relationship you’re unhappy in or a career that’s unfulfilling. You have options! One door closes and another opens, as they say. You just have to have the courage to make the change. I stayed in a job once that I hated for 6 months and almost sacrificed my sanity, but then the minute I left I found a job that I loved and it all worked out. Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do because something better is waiting for you around the corner. However, you can never cross the ocean if you don’t have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Change is hard, but it’s also sometimes necessary, especially if you’re stuck in a “comfort zone”. Pip Lincolne talks about how to bounce back from failure in an article she wrote for Dumbo Feather.

You may be wondering, how do you even know if you’re on the right path? Well, it’s about trusting your own judgment, listening to your feelings and responding to them. Doing something you love should create an overall sense of flow, contentment and fulfilment. Yes, there will be challenges along the way, but if you are having more bad days than good that’s usually a pretty good indicator that you’re not on the right path. Also, get to know your limits and set realistic goals. No matter how hard I try; I know I will never be able to fly, for example. Also, sometimes it may be that you need to skill up first, gain a certain qualification, or do some research – so be aware of all the steps along the way, and commit to climbing one step at a time. In other words, don’t run before you can walk.


Being persistent is one thing, but being consistent is another. Consistency creates structure, routine and habit, and humans are creatures of habit. I’ve been learning about consistence recently in Pip Lincolne’s Blog With Pip course. In the course, she shares her blog-to-book journey and insights with her students and she reckons that it’s all about consistency. If you want to write a book, for example, you need to commit to writing it Every. Single. Day. She suggests writing 750 words every day until you finish writing your book. Pretty simple, and pretty obvious, no?

If you are persistentYou will get itIf you are consistentYou will keep it

Take informed, educated risks.

This is an important point to clarify because not all risks are equal. People take risks every day in business and in life, however, some risks are well informed and educated, and others are just plain silly. The difference between an informed risk and a silly risk is when the upside outweighs the downside. Think about the best-case scenario for your risk and then think about the worst-case scenario. If the potential downside is limited and manageable but the potential upside is unlimited, you should probably take that risk.

For example, when thinking about starting this blog, I considered the best possible outcome or measure of success, which was for my blog to gain a significant readership, for me to share my ideas, connect with, inspire and help others, and to eventually perhaps write a book based on the ideas shared on the blog. The worst-case scenario was that no one would read my blog and that I’d wasted $20 on buying a domain name. However, I figured that even if people weren’t reading or following along, my time wasn’t being wasted because I still enjoying the process of writing regardless. So, I realised I’d still find some measure of success and enjoyment in the pursuit of this venture even if I didn’t meet all the benchmarks along the way. In this case, the potential downside is limited but the upside is virtually unlimited. It’s a risk worth taking. Steve Pavlina talks more about this, if you’re interested.

Have the courage to face your fears.

Finally, success takes courage. No matter what goal you’re working toward, it takes courage. To be successful you have to conquer your fears, doubts and insecurities, sometimes on a daily basis. It’s normal to feel scared when you’re trying to achieve something. The fear of failure is real, and it’s scary. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear and creativity in her new (and awesome) book, Big Magic. For Gilbert, whenever she attempts to pursue any new venture, creativity is always in the driver’s seat and fear is in the back. She reckons that if you let your fear jump into the driver’s seat, your life will be pretty boring. And she’s right, of course. Fear wants to keep us safe, and it has its place, but we can’t let it make all the decisions for us in life.

As Liz says, “Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become”. – Elizabeth Gilbert.

Social researcher Brené Brown also talks about courage and vulnerability and how we must dare to show up and be seen; to walk into the arena of our lives, whether it be for work, relationships, a difficult conversation, a job interview, or whatever. When you show up authentically, you create the space for others to do the same. Authenticity is a form of vulnerability, but vulnerability is not weakness – it’s courage. So be authentic, be you and believe in yourself – you have what it takes!

Brené reckons that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change, and I reckon she’s totally right. When I think of all the awesome achievements in my own life, I can definitely see how they were born out of vulnerability.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené shares part of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s too awesome not to share…

theodore roosevelt quote

I hope you were inspired by some of my ideas, stories and reflections on success and I hope you find success in whatever you choose to pursue. Do you have any success stories you’d like to share with me? Feel free to comment here or chat to me on Facebook.

Inside Out: How to Validate Your Feelings.

In my last post, I spoke about stories, and how we all have sets of stories that form our sense of identity. The social researcher and best-selling author, Brené Brown, also likes to talk about stories. She reckons it takes courage to own your story.

when we deny the story

It takes more courage to be vulnerable and own your story, than it does to hide away in shame. It involves standing in your truth, examining your story, making necessary changes, and sometimes it involves sitting with discomfort and pain.

Last night, I watched the Disney Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’ for the first time. It was an awesome film! It highlighted the importance of validating your own (and others’) feelings, no matter how uncomfortable, sad, painful or awkward they may be. All of our feelings serve a purpose. We can’t always be “joyful”, and that’s ok! Forcing yourself to be positive and happy in response to events or situations that incite feelings of sadness is likely to result in more sadness, anger, frustration and ultimately, denial of your emotions.

In dialectical behaviour therapy, when we talk about regulating emotions, we firstly educate clients on getting to know their primary emotions. People who have difficulty regulating their emotions have usually experienced some form of invalidation in their life. That is, someone important in the person’s life has potentially criticised them, disapproved of them, invalidated their feelings, invalidated their story, or invalidated how they see the world. In the film, there are five primary emotions – joy, sadness, fear, disgust and anger. Sometimes people add in a sixth: surprise. Primary emotions are the first emotion a person feels consequent to an event. These primary emotions are often then masked by secondary emotions. The interesting thing about secondary emotions is that they are emotions we have in response to a primary emotion not being recognised or expressed. So, when we, or others, invalidate our primary feelings by denying them, judging them, criticising them or shaming them, we then move on to secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are longer lasting and profoundly more intense. For example, say you were a child and you felt sad and your primary caregiver consistently got angry with you for being sad, you may have then started to judge yourself for being sad. A story was created. The story isn’t necessarily true or valid, but the story continues on into adulthood. The story tells you that it’s not okay to be sad. So you mask the sadness, and you also try anything to escape the intensity and discomfort of the secondary feeling. Perhaps you start drinking, gambling, self-harming… it’s a bullshit story, but it sticks.

Oftentimes, people deny that sadness serves a purpose. You see people’s social media feeds these days, and it’s like a highlights reel of their life. “Be positive!” “Smile!” “Be happy!” people say in response to someone who is slouching their shoulders or looking glum. The result is a culture where we are taught that it’s not ok to be angry, sad or disgusted. “Stop being so negative!” people say, or “Cheer up!” When we respond to sadness with joy, we create a culture of invalidation, and it’s so unhealthy!

Of course, that’s not to say that being clinically depressed is ok or normal, and that we should just validate this profound feeling of sadness and move on. No, that’s not what it’s about. But why can’t we sit with them alongside their sadness for a little while? Why can’t we feel their feelings, and in turn allow them to feel their feelings too? Yes, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes even painful… but it’s also an appropriate and healthy human response.

What’s to say we can’t accept them for where they are right now, and still strive to work toward change and improvement? What’s to say that we can’t validate a person’s sadness, but also help them to move on to a place of joy? It’s not a contradiction; it’s the middle ground. And doesn’t have to be black and white. Why should it be? Life isn’t black or white; it’s all shades of grey.

So, how about instead of conforming to a culture of invalidation and shame we embrace all of our feelings? ‘Cos they all serve a purpose.