Mind Hacks Monday–I Can Handle It

A Facebook friend was seeking some advice from her friends in the computer for handling a five-year-old’s mixed emotions about starting Kindergarten.

Do you downplay fears and talk up the fun? Acknowledge the sadness at leaving a familiar preschool? On that first day, do you stay for just one more minute, or do you exit quickly without looking back at the forlorn, tear-streaked face of your abandoned baby?

As I move through the second decade of parenting, I’ve taken the philosophy that what I do isn’t all that important. It’s what the kids do. So my advice was to help the child feel competent to handle whatever unpredictable feelings come up: feel sad? feel scared? feel lonely? That’s OK, you can handle it.

Introducing yourself to new kids making you feel shy? That’s OK, you can handle feeling shy. Getting frustrated when your handwriting doesn’t look like that strip pasted on your desk? That’s OK, you can handle feeling frustrated.

This was of thinking was a revelation to me when I first discovered it. Somehow I grew up believing that bad feelings—mine or anyone else’s—were to be avoided at all costs, and were a sure sign that something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Meditation helped me to learn that feelings were just feelings, not events or situations that require action, and practice taught me that I could sit through feelings that seemed unbearable and still be there the next day.

Then I had a choice: I could choose to try control my feelings, maybe by shutting down and withdrawing, or by going seriously Type A and controlling every aspect of my environment. Or I could simply remind myself that having a feeling, no matter how bad, is not going to kill me, and no feeling, no matter how intense, lasts forever.

In the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, author Susan Jeffers says that “I Can’t Handle It” is the belief at the base of all fears. To fear rejection is to believe that you can’t handle rejection. To fear loss is to believe that you can’t handle being sad or disappointed.

As a freelancer, I’ve recently ended a contract that has provided almost half our household income for several years. Talk about feeling the fear . . . But I’m lucky to have experience—and I don’t just mean experience as a writer or editor. I have experience having less money, so I know I can handle that. I have experience being turned down for work, so I know I can handle that. I hate feeling uncertain about the future, but that’s nothing new either. Uncertainty—I can handle it.

And yet the great thing about “I can handle it” is that it neutralizes so much of what makes uncertainty unpleasant. There’s no controlling outcomes: maybe my parents will react badly to that decision, maybe that investment is going to tank, maybe my child is going to hate school. But can I handle it? That’s entirely up to me.

There is an obvious risk with “I can handle it” as well. “Handling it” doesn’t mean lying there and taking it, or going it alone. Too many people I know act as though asking for help or even venting a little bit about their concerns proves that they couldn’t handle it. “Sorry for whining,” they say. “That’s OK, I’ll do it myself,” they say. “That’s just the way it is,” they say.

Just like self-acceptance doesn’t have to mean giving up on yourself, “I can handle it” doesn’t mean “I am the world’s doormat.” “I can handle feeling bad” doesn’t imply “and therefore I will not investigate how I could lessen the frequency, duration, or intensity of my bad feelings.”

It’s deceptively simple: “I can handle it” merely frees you from the urgency of feelings—yours or someone else’s—so you can focus on what is really happening and what you can really do about it instead.

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About mina

Like a rock: sometimes hard, sometimes crumbly, occasionally brilliant, sometimes dense.

Posted on August 29, 2011, in advice, books, inspiration, mind hacks. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thank you once again Mina. I really haven’t thought to talk to my daughter this way. It sounds very healthy.

    I sometimes fall into the”act as though asking for help or even venting a little bit about their concerns proves that they couldn’t handle it.” group.

    When I was a kid I was given the very strong message not to ask for help. Asking for help made me annoying and a liability. It was very unhealthy and probably still affects my behaviors to this day.

    I actually had a friend tell me once that I should ask for more from my friends, because friends like to help each other and that being so independent wasn’t allowing me to get close enough to people. So she set me the task of asking for at least one thing, like a simple drink of water, anytime I was at someone’s house.

    All that is to say that I usually do believe that I can handle things. I have a lot of experience handling things, even really really scary things, like cancer. But that ability came from an unhealthy place and this post you just wrote has helped me reframe it and gave me a feeling of calm strength. Thank you so much.

  2. Needed this post exactly now in my life. Thank you.

  3. Kind of funny that I know both of you are enduring cross-country moves. If there’s ever a time in life when I think, “I can’t handle it,” it’s moving. But of course you can and you did and you are.

    I always had a hard time asking for help, and got that assignment from a therapist once. Naturally the first time I asked someone said no! But life has put me in some humbling positions where not asking is not a choice, and it is true — many people are happy to have some way to help. The more competent your public persona is, the harder it can be: people don’t offer help naturally because they see you as able to handle everything, so when you do need help you have to ask very directly, which is the opposite of how you usually live your life. If that makes sense.

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