The next time you start to beat yourself up over your shoe addiction, penchant for bad boys, or lack of will power, stop and ask yourself, Seriously, how is this helping? Science shows that some addictions and behaviors are just encoded in your DNA, and instead of feeling overwhelmed and defeated, you need to learn how to manage them. Traditional therapies tend to emphasize the importance of expressing your feelings, which is all well and good, except that some people find that the constant navel-gazing is kind of annoying and counterproductive because it doesn't change, or accomplish, anything.
This, at least, is the thinking behind F*ck Feelings , the anti-self-help book by Harvard-educated psychiatrist Michael Bennett and his comedy-writer daughter, Sarah Bennett. The duo take a tough-love approach to figuring out life, emphasizing the importance of focusing on realistic goals and acceptance, with a healthy does of humor thrown in. They believe that people's desire to find a cure for their problems through therapy and expressing feelings is actually a need "to deny the fact that there is much about life, others, and their own personalities that is beyond anyone's power to change."
The Bennetts urge you to accept the things you can't change and address those you can by providing "concrete steps for getting past unavoidable bad feelings so you can do your best with what you actually control." Basically, they're encouraging us to stop indulging in the adult temper-tantrums we call "sharing our feelings" and get down to the business of preventing our weaknesses "from turning [us] into jerks." Sound interesting?
The Bennetts promise "that there is no situation in life that can't be endured if you can keep your sense of humor, bend your wishes to fit reality, restrain your feelings, manage bad behavior, and do what you think is right." The key is focusing on your goals instead of your pie-in-the-sky wishes.
Here are seven reasons you need to stop letting your feelings run your life, and the Bennett-prescribed goals you should focus on instead.
Because Self-Improvement May Actually Be BS
Yes, I know, it's shocking. But here's the thing: if you're constantly trying to change something about yourself that's hard-wired in your brain, "it's less self-improvement, more self-sabotage." According to the Bennetts, you need to be able to "realistically assess your ability to get better, cope with the pain of accepting what you already know, and turn your knowledge of your limits into a useful plan of action." In other words, work with what you've got. Whether you're struggling with depression, addiction, or your obsession with being perfect, you need to accept the fact that certain aspects of your behavior are always going to be there. "If you accept that self-improvement has its limits, then you can begin to discover the nature of these limits, which you need to know if you're going to manage them well," write the Bennetts.
So try this:
- Create reasonable standards for what you can actually do, and respect yourself for meeting those standards
- Accept the pain and confusion of having to deal with a problem you don't understand, and find deep motivation for not letting it change your priorities or values
- Get to know your inner asshole so as to reduce the likelihood it becomes outer, and learn your triggers
Because Life Isn't Fair
Even though you've been hearing this since your sister got your dream Barbie for Christmas when you were 6, injustice still stings, and it's human nature to want nail the guilty party. However, indulging yourself in a crusade for revenge "can become an excuse for pursuing unattainable dreams while ignoring important but much less satisfying obligations, like getting to work, [and] making a living." There are times when getting closure or righting a wrong is just not possible. Instead, as the Bennetts write, "redefine your goal, so that it's not to pursue justice or punish unfairness but to accept the unfairness of the world, bear the humiliation ... and then seek to do the most good."
So try this:
- Never feel personally defeated by your inability to make things work fairly for yourself or others
- Never stop trying to make things work fairly in the tiny part of the world you control
- Take heart in your long-term goals and in your gradual ability to move beyond the reach of the jerks who are out to get you
Because Being Helpful Can Be Harmful
Wanting to help is a noble impulse, no doubt. The problem is that it often involves trying to change others, and as the Bennetts write "history has too many examples of people with the best intentions — from missionaries to armies to the developers of OxyContin — who end up helping people to death." They go on to explain that most people have an on/off switch when it comes to helpfulness, where we're either 100 percent invested or feel no obligation whatsoever, based on mostly arbitrary reasons. "Helping indiscriminately— reacting reflexively instead of thoughtfully— does harm when it's misdirected, misappropriates resources, and raises risks." Ultimately you need to be a careful, cautious, and conscientious when you decide whom and how to help.
So try this:
- If behavior change is necessary, be objective about whether it's possible
- Respect people who endure injustice, regardless of what happens
- Maximize the number of people who get help by identifying what's needed most and those who don't have it and can't get it
- When it comes to addiction, offer input about ongoing related behaviors and stand by what you think about their dangerousness or other potential for harm without expressing negative emotion
Because Stress Isn't Always Bad
Stress is unavoidable. It's going to be a part of your life forever, because it's part of being human. "[W]hether stress is a force for good or bad in your life, or even both, trying to do away with it is futile, harmful, and a way to set yourself against your basic nature," write the Bennetts. Instead of stressing yourself out more by trying to eradicate it from your life through endless hot yoga or medication, learn to manage it. The Bennetts urge you to "accept that peace of mind is rare, and that, without learning proper management of stress and fear, you can lose your mind entirely."
So try this:
- Accept managing love-hate as part of a good person's job
- Develop practical ways to block annoying people from your perception and make your own rules for doing so
- Learn how to tell when a negative thought is lying to you and how to challenge it
Because Love Hurts
There's never any kind of guarantee when it comes to love — that it's real, that it will last, or that you'll be loved back. It can be hard not to want it so badly that you sacrifice your goals, values, and self. "Love can be one of the ultimate obstacles to being a good person and finding lasting relationships," the Bennetts write, and they advocate thinking about love without the rose-colored lenses, accepting that you may get hurt, and that it may end badly, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. "[I]f you realize that love is a risky business and can accept pain, frustration, and hard lessons as unavoidable, you can survive and learn from your losses."
So try this:
- List qualifications that a candidate must have to make partnership worth your while and describe the responsibilities and activities of the job your partner would need to take on
- Know what you need from a good love and make sure it's part of your partner's original package
- Always present the need for change in terms of advantages, not disappointment
- Make sure partners score a ten for character before you let their sex-appeal rating take over
- And if it ends, don't be a jerk, even though you're hurting and it's probably unfair
Because Communication Is Overrated
Despite the seemingly endless types of communication we have— phones, text, email, Facebook, Twitter— most people are still pretty crappy at conveying what they really mean. But the Bennetts also write that communication is not necessarily the key to solving all life's problems. "[K]nowing that your communication abilities are limited is essential if you are to know when to shut up, leave things alone, and console yourself that you're not responsible for whatever happens next." Sometimes silence is your best friend.
So try this:
- Rate a person's ability to communicate objectively, before you start to take it personally
- Assess your ability to tolerate silence without being negative and think about what happened the last time you expressed your feelings before you do it again
- Watch what happens when you share too much
- Look for all realistic, worthwhile goals other than expressing anger or changing unchangeable provocations
Because Some People Are Just...
As much as you'd like to believe that everyone is capable, deeeep down, of being a good person, it's just not true. Some people are nasty through and through, and the Bennetts call them Assh*les with a capital A. And, as they put it, there is no such thing as "Asshole whisperers" meaning no amount of therapy or intervention is going to change their bad behavior. Unfortunately their intense emotions and flair for the dramatic is often attractive. At least initially. C'mon, you know you've probably dated at least one true Asshole. But, alas "after initially being your best friend/indebted admirer, Assh*les tend to graduate you to their enemy list," write the Bennetts. If it's at all within your power, get as far away from the Assh*le as possible. If not, wash your hands of their behavior.
So try this:
- Pretty much be prepared for the worst-case scenario at all times, and communicate only what's positive and necessary, so as not to add fuel or show weakness
- If your Assh*le is your parent, determine whether there are any good things you can actually accomplish with and for them that are likely to do some good and not be defeated by his or her being an Assh*le
- When you know talking gets you nowhere, shut up
- Don't complain about the Assh*le because as cathartic as the temporary venting feels, it just makes them more important