It seems that many of us have learned the art of not fully feeling what we feel. We may not know exactly how or when we picked up this skill along the way, but we can sense its presence in how we've become expert dismissers ("Ah, it's not that big of a deal"), second-guessers ("Should I really be feeling this way?"), or harsh inner-critics ("I can't believe you would feel such an embarrassing feeling"). These inner comments not only stop us from truly experiencing our emotions, they also keep us from seeing any value in our feelings or in the messages they contain.
In response to our habits of avoiding, numbing out, distracting, and distancing, I've imagined there might come a day when the collective of human emotions will finally rise up in protest -- planting their stakes in the ground, they'll demand to be acknowledged and felt. They will have had it with being minimized, rationalized, analyzed, and intellectualized. They'll want to be honored in their own right and on their own terms. Some of the rougher ones might carry arms and threaten to take hostages, while the softer, more fragile ones will simply hold up neatly-typed signs and in a soft voice politely make their requests: "Would you mind simply feeling me for once, allowing me to be here too, without shooing me away? I have my own half-life, you know, if you would just ride me through. Maybe I even carry some wisdom that you could benefit from. Try me."
I've yet to meet an emotion that's been felt by someone for no reason. There's usually always a reason, often a good one, and even it if it seems silly or trite, by recognizing what's going on beneath the surface in such moments, we can often spare ourselves being clubbed over the head with the same message at some future point in time.
When we allow our emotions to be felt, they do have a trajectory of their own, and we don't get to fully control it. This seems to be why feelings can feel so scary. They have a certain physics of their arrival, their staying time, and their passing -- but often we're best off allowing this natural movement to occur in its own time and way. It doesn't typically help the situation to try to force feelings through our system or to attempt to snuff them out. Actually, often the shortest distance through difficult feelings is entering right into the heart of them.
There are many ways we can facilitate this process: crying, talking to someone, talking out loud to ourselves, journaling, writing with our non-dominant hand, drawing images, taking a brisk walk or jog, dancing or moving in other ways, creating a ritual to honor our feelings, writing poems or songs, or imagining being a compassionate and nurturing presence for the part of us in pain.
Reflect on what you've found to be the best way of feeling your feelings and -- when the opportunity next arises -- if you want to try out a new way.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
For more by Karen Horneffer-Ginter, Ph.D., click here.
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