More free-spirited cultures have long been made fun of Americans for a certain degree of uptightness when it comes to emotions and sexuality. I don’t need to give you a history lesson (I hope), but our Puritanical roots are usually cited as the cause of our country becoming the poster child for this sort of repression in the Western world.
Baby Boomer readers will recall their generations’ pushback against this cultural phenomenon with the Free Love movement. They get the Gold Star for the generation to most aggressively rail against the Puritanical machine. But, of course, resistance to repression – emotional, sexual or otherwise – continued on with the next generations in varying forms.
When it comes to Millennials, I am puzzled lately by how our response to this aspect of American culture has taken shape. In one breath, we encourage others to pursue our true selves and identities. In another, we advocate for letting go of anything that isn’t “serving” us. In pursuit of both of these avenues, we expect to find fulfillment. But it seems to me that instead, somehow in our quest for happiness, we ended up advocating not for emotional freedom, but for emotional avoidance.
If you don’t often peruse Instagram, you may not have any idea what I’m alluding to. So allow me to let you in on my pet peeve – the trend among young people, particularly the Millennials and Generation Z-ers that rule social media, to advocate for removing people or elements from their lives that “do not serve” them.
I suspect the origination of this topic’s proliferation on social media was a 2017 article published on Medium.com – a popular online resource where anyone can post think pieces – entitled “This Is How To Let Go Of What No Longer Serves You, So You Can Attract More Of What You Really Need.” The author, Tony Fahkry, is described as a “self-empowerment author, expert speaker and coach.”
Fahkry argued that suffering is caused by holding on to things that do not serve us, but which offer us comfort because they are familiar. “The truth of the matter is, the space will be filled when you make a conscious decision to let go of that which does not serve you,” he wrote. He advocated for removing anything that makes you feel unfulfilled, or which is “taxing you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
In theory, that sounds like a decent life strategy. But it seems some have been taken this original, well-meaning attempt to encourage happiness to an extreme – emotional avoidance.
For the past couple of years, my Instagram feed has become increasingly filled with people bragging about letting go of toxic relationships, avoiding social gatherings that stress them out, and eliminating all sorts of people, places and things that “do not serve them” in pursuit of a more fulfilled existence. I originally felt OK about this concept. I mean, if you have a crappy boyfriend, by all means, dump him!
But what happens when we start avoiding friends and family because they are a bit high-maintenance and stress us out a little, or because they, with the best-intentions, point out areas of our lives that admittedly need a little fixing up? Is avoiding negative emotion really “serving” us? Or is it stifling our personal growth? There is a difference between addressing an issue and then letting go of it – that’s healthy. But not addressing it because you don’t like how it makes you feel and then expecting life to carry on for the better, well, that just seems psychologically problematic.
I’ve known people to disappear into this sinkhole, one by one removing people from their lives until they were largely without any close relations, settling instead for fly-by-night buddies who only have nice things to say because it’s a more pleasant experience than the rigors of developing intimacy. I’ve had friends who have made it their mission to completely rid their lives of negativity. I say “had” because, ultimately, these people vanished into their own presumably blissful existence, where everything is amazing because there is no one to tell them otherwise.
Well, you know what’s not serving me, or probably you, for that matter? That attitude. At the risk of sounding like an elder Millennial, I propose this: sure, rid your life of truly toxic relationships and activities. But don’t think that just because you have been challenged with a negative emotion – regret or shame or disappointment – that it is a hindrance to your development. It seems to me that the happiest, most successful people in the world didn’t hide from the things that challenged them – they faced them head on, and came out better for it.
That being said, by all means, please do dump your crappy boyfriend. I’m not advocating for purposefully engaging in things that make you miserable for misery’s sake. Let that ish go. But don’t run away from everything that makes you feel something unpleasant without first taking a good hard look at why that is.
Now, let’s take a moment to contemplate the things that aren’t serving ME right now, because bygummit, it’s my turn:
- Cable news networks, which have apparently adopted the manifesto, “If it is not related to President Trump, it’s not news.” As far as I can tell, they serve up just one hour of “news” in the evenings, which consists of paid talking heads arguing about the president for 30 minutes, with 25 minutes spent on commercials and just 5 minutes – if we’re lucky – paid to national and international news.
- The “insulation” between my upstairs neighbors’ floors and my ceiling, and, while we’re at it, drugstore earplugs. Spoiler alert: they might drown out snoring, but not Stompy McStomperson’s 5 a.m. Riverdance.
- Unreliable on-demand delivery estimates. How does 30-40 minutes always become an hour and a half? This woman needs her pho and she needs it within a specified timeframe!
- Dating apps. Enough said.
- The Santa Ana winds, which make the temperature nice but turn my nose into a faucet and my eyes into itchy balls of fire.
- My family, literally. I had dinner at their house the other night, and they had the gall to suggest I serve myself. I mean, really. Who do they think I am, a full-grown adult with fully functioning hands and feet?
- Generation Z. As far as I can tell, these kids have done nothing to serve their elder Millennial Generation. They’re too busy trying to fight climate change and keep guns out of schools. The nerve.