On Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs (can’t run without one I’m afraid), Rebecca Adlington spoke of her lasting and deep friendship with Jo – her best friend, bridesmaid and most trusted confidante. Jo has also been a rival to Rebecca in the pool – they competed against each other in the last Olympics. However, Rebecca describes how once they dive in the water, they are no longer friends. She wouldn’t have achieved gold (while Jo got the bronze) had it not been for her capacity to feel two things at once – deep respect and love, alongside a genuine rivalry and desire to ‘outdo’. We see these conflicting feelings on the tennis court/monopoly board/playstation – to feel opposites, simultaneously, is a human trait.
This reminds me of my work in the consulting room which often involves unpacking the uneasy, hard to understand juxtaposition of feelings such as love and hate, envy and compassion, care and disregard. We may love our child unconditionally, but boy we can hate her at times too. None of us like envy (well, the people I tend to meet don’t), and it can feel particularly corrosive when we envy someone we love dearly.
Desperate to conceive, many women I meet can feel envy when their sister or best friend does before them. This doesn’t discount the pleasure and joy that arises too, but the discomfort and guilt at feeling envious can often taint the positive and happy response that simultaneously arises. My experience tells me that learning to forgive yourself for a feeling that is beyond your control, could help carve out more room for the joy. But it also throws a light onto what you really need: compassion for not getting what you want and maybe deserve that others may have instead. In the case of fertility, there is no justice in who gets pregnant easily or not.
Rebecca couldn’t have achieved so highly unless she allowed her competitive edge to nudge Jo, and in the same way we can un-stick ourselves from discomfort if we allow for the presence of negative feelings. It’s what we do with them that really matters, but having them in the first place makes you a card carrying member of the human race.