The taboo of relief

K. Robertson
Oct 23, 2020 · 3 min read

A couple of my friends were made redundant recently. They are now unemployed. No one wants to be unemployed especially now during a pandemic. When I asked how they were feeling, they said they were ok. They could have been saying this for my benefit but it seemed to me that they were genuine in their answer. They weren’t worried. They werent frantic. They felt relieved.

But how? Why?

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

Oxford Dictionaries/ defines relief as a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress. But have you ever noticed that relief doesnt always seem like an appropriate way to feel? Have you ever met someone who came out of a situation and felt relieved but was afraid to say it? I have met many people like this. Some of the friends I mentioned earlier are included in that group of people. I am one of these people.

When my grandmother died, I felt relieved. When my own father died, I felt relieved. I know people who felt similarly when faced with deaths in their families. I know women who felt relieved when they lost pregnancies. I know people relieved because they’ve lost their jobs. I know people who felt relieved after their marriages ended. I know parents who are relieved to get a break from their kids. But in these types of cases we arent generally “allowed” to feel relieved. Relief here makes you seem like a bad person … like an ungrateful person … like an evil person.

Relief here isn’t to be celebrated. It is taboo. It is to be hidden while you put on a front and feel how others think you should feel. Your relief is to be denied while you live up to the expectations laid on you by the world at large. Our capacity for emotion is as varied as humans are numerous. So why do we think everyone will experience these common situations in the same way?

Recall that relief is “relaxation following release from anxiety”. There are many situations and experiences that may seem good or happy or pleasant to a lot of people, but are quite negative and devastating to others. And the last thing those folks need is to feel judged for not feeling as outsiders expected them to. I am not saying that negative experiences are to be celebrated. But I do believe that rather than lacing these situations with how we feel, we need to allow people to feel how they feel. We need to get comfortable with people experiencing similar situations to ours, in ways that are different from how we would act. We need to get used to people having different points of view.

Relief is supposed to be a good thing. It is supposed to a celebration of an escape from something stressful or of the completion of an activity. But how can we be relieved if we arent allowed to feel it? It is not our place to police how others feel. Our aim should be let people live and experience the world as they see fit, just like we would want to. We should all want to live in a world where it is ok to feel good about the end of an undesirable situation. Getting to a good place should never be taboo.

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