I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I’m not myself today,” when they’re out of sorts. They might
be feeling grumpy, down, tense, indecisive, heavy, lonely, or otherwise…not themselves.
But what is this ‘self’ that disappears with uncomfortable feelings? And what are we left with when
I have noticed that many of my therapy clients share similar discomforts. Specifically,
people bring uncomfortable emotions, body sensations, thoughts, impulses and memories with
them to counselling. They hope to free themselves from this discomfort and reclaim the ‘self
that feels good.’
I’ve come to be able to spot the self that feels good in others and identify it in myself.
The self that feels good is a present self, a self that can enjoy life, that feels curiosity, and connection with the world and with others, a self that is spontaneous, flexible, has access to compassion and can maintain a more expansive view.
Above all, the self that feels good is a regulated self.
‘Regulation’ refers to how the nervous system works.
Just briefly, the job of our nervous system is to match our energy level to the tasks at hand. When we wake up in the morning, our sympathetic nervous system pumps the gas, causing our heart rate to increase, adrenaline to flow and our arousal levels to rise.
When we go to bed at night, our parasympathetic nervous system slows the body down, and we start to feel sleepy.
Hopefully, throughout the day, the two halves of our nervous system can keep us regulated, with not too much gas, or too little, otherwise, we become uncomfortable.
The nervous system is also in charge of keeping us safe. As our stress levels shoot up,
the nervous system responds either by jamming on the gas, making us ready to fight or flee, or
by slamming on the brakes with a submission or collapse response.
Uncomfortable emotions follow.
Anger and irritability come with fight; fear and anxiety with flight; hopelessness, heaviness and shame with submission and collapse.
These are amazing, highly adaptive survival responses!
And they aren’t meant to be comfortable. Quite the opposite. They’re meant to get our attention so we can respond to threat.
So, when you hear somebody say, “I’m not myself today,” they are still themself, but a
different self, a survival self, has seized the wheel and will be in the driver’s seat until the sense
of danger has passed and the self who feels good can take the wheel again.
How should we respond when not feeling ourselves?
First, give grace. There’s always a good reason for how we feel.
Want practice? I recommend trying these self-compassion meditations from Dr. Kirsten Neff.
Next, you can try any from this extensive VIU list of grounding techniques. Grounding helps the nervous system regulate the body, bringing out the self that feels good.
Finally, you might consider the help of a professional.
Please feel free to be in touch with me if you would like to consult about your unique challenges.
Blair McLean, MA, RCC offers counselling sessions in person at The Vitality Clinic and online.
Book an appointment here.