How many times have you been in a situation where you begin to notice a negative experience or sensation begin to bubble up and you said, "Oh no! Not today, Satan!!", then made a point to ignore or distract yourself from the feelings that followed?
For all of us, the answer is "at least once". For most, the answer is "often". We don't like to feel bad. We don't like to have moments that make our stomach drop and our eyes well up. Who would? And not to mention the fact that society has taught us that being anything other than 'happy' is an undesirable trait. We often feel like having negative responses to anything is a set back, especially if that response is related to a past experience. I mean, if I'm healed then I should never feel bad about that again. Right?
Wrong. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but wrong. That is not how emotions work, and emotions are a natural part of being human; good or bad.
Imagine if I told you that you were not supposed to poop. Pooping is gross. It smells. No one wants to go into a restroom after you or even think about the fact that you poop. You should not poop and if you do then something is wrong with you... You would tell me that I had lost my dang mind!! Have you ever tried to avoid going #2? Remember how uncomfortable and distracting that is? And what eventually happens? You, my friend, are going to poop whether you like it or not. There is no plan B.
The same goes for your emotions, your pent up feelings, and your tears. If you try to hold them in, you're distracted and uncomfortable, but instead of sprinting for a bathroom to avoid ruining your favorite jeans, you will 'explode' in a different way. You will be depressed, stressed, angry, fatigued, and possibly even physically ill. Just like everything else to do with our bodies, emotion is energy. That heavy feeling that you get in your chest when you're sad is energy. The sickness in your stomach when you're worried, that's energy. The daily headache, the road rage, the impatience with your children... that is all energy that is attached to emotions that need to be addressed.
You may be thinking, 'Ok, great. You got me. I almost threw up at work after a stressful meeting, yelled at my spouse on the phone for calling me at a bad time, and almost punched my boss for changing my work schedule, but what can I do about it?'
Well, friend, I only have two words for you. Feel it. FEEL. IT! Stop ignoring it. Stop distracting from it. Stop listening to society's lies about happiness. Stop seeing the body's natural response to stress as some sort of inconvenience or weakness. And most importantly, stop punishing yourself for being a very normal human with emotions. Trust me. I know it's hard. I was the proud owner of an ego that didn't want to be too sensitive or seem like a burden. I actually have a journal entry somewhere in my past that says something along the lines of 'I'm glad I don't need anyone.' (Yeah, right...)
So what can you actively do? How can you flip the script on this situation? I want to share a few simple changes that you can make today that will open your mind and heart to allowing your feelings to flow.
Acknowledge that you are hiding from negative emotions.
It's true that we only make lasting changes in our lives when we're ready to open our hearts and minds to an alternative way of being. No amount of advice or external influence can push us in any direction until we are truly ready. By admitting that you are ignoring emotions, and holding yourself back from growth, healing, and purpose, you can open yourself up to begin to change this pattern.
Don't just take it from me. Do your research. Find books, videos, Ted Talks, documentaries, etc., that discuss the biological, psychological, physiological, and energetic/spiritual facts about human emotion, stress, trauma, and healing. Understanding how your mind, body, and energy are all processing and being affected by emotions can provide a huge amount of insight into what is happening to you during these situations. This insight can give you clues as to what works best for you as an individual when it comes to identifying, working with, and releasing negative emotions and feelings.
Work on identifying core values and beliefs that are holding you back.
This is probably the toughest one of all, because for every action or reaction that we have, there is a belief or value that we hold driving that response. If I get angry at a driver on the road for cutting me off, it's because I believe they did it on purpose and they have no respect for me. If I see someone drop a $20 bill on the street, and I choose to flag them down and give it back to them, it's because I value honesty and kindness.
In our society today, many hold beliefs that happiness and positivity are the only acceptable states of being. It started when you were a child and an adult told you to stop acting up. It was proven when you got your heartbroken in middle school, and your classmates made fun of you for crying. It was reinforced when you got into a heated discussion with someone at work and you were later called into your boss's office to "have a chat about professionalism". Our values and beliefs about negative emotion are, in most cases, very wrong. The best thing you can do for yourself on this topic is to begin breaking those down and letting them go. Expecting to be happy 100% of the time is honestly an insane expectation.
Find a way to channel the feelings.
Thankfully there are many options for channeling and releasing stress, sadness, anxiety, and so on. Here are some of my favorites, but you may find something else that works well for you.
Screaming into a pillow
Talking to someone you trust
A word of caution... Be careful of using these things as a distraction versus an outlet. Choosing to do things to avoid emotion instead of using them to channel the emotion will put you right back where you started. Be patient with yourself. It will take time to get comfortable with this.
As I said above, I had a past journal entry where I wrote about being glad I didn't need anyone. First of all, that was a bold faced lie. I had friends and family that wanted to and did support me. I had a great support structure available to me, and I talked to someone on that list almost every day. I was lying to myself in order to avoid acknowledging that fact. By acknowledging it, I thought I was being weak, and I was protecting myself in case everyone suddenly abandoned me (like my mom did by dying when I was 12).
Doing life alone is hard. It is lonely, and it is unnecessary. Even if you are reading this right now and thinking, 'I really don't have anyone I can talk to...' I promise you, you are wrong. Listen to your friends and family when they ask you how you are. Casually test the waters by bringing up a topic you feel comfortable with and see who in your life is a good fit for support. Who knows, they may need you as much as you need them. And if you still feel like you're in this alone, here are a few options for support outside of personal acquaintances.
Counselors and therapists
A Coach (like myself)
Crisis and Support Hotlines (I have used these myself and they are surprisingly good at what they do.)
As with anything, practice makes perfect. Spending time sitting with your thoughts and feelings, connecting with the sensations that come up in your body, and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable are all great places to begin. I'll leave you with an exercise to try that might be beneficial to getting you headed in the right direction.
Set aside 15 to 30 minutes of distraction free time to complete the following steps. It doesn't necessarily matter where you are when you do this, but choosing some place that you feel comfortable and safe to be vulnerable will help. Grab a pen and paper. We're going to try a visualization. Do your best to put yourself in this scenario as if it were really happening.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes and take 3 slow deep breaths. (Inhale for 3 seconds, exhale for 3 seconds)
Let any thoughts or feelings just pass through your mind like water.
With your eyes still closed, imagine that you're walking down a city street. The weather is exactly how you like it and the temperature is perfect. There are a few people out today, and everyone is going about their lives and enjoying the day, just as you are. You're approaching the end of the sidewalk and need to cross the street. Suddenly, on your right, you catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye and it startles you. When you look over, you notice that it's just a stray cat that has run out from underneath a dumpster. When you turn your attention back to the path ahead, you bump into a stranger who yells at you for not watching where you're going and then storms off. You cross the street and enter your favorite store.
Now, open your eyes.
Notice where you feel anything (weight, burning, numbness, etc.) in your body. Write this down.
Did you start to clench your hands, feet, jaw, etc.? Did you feel anything good or bad about any of the scenarios or interactions? Write this down.
What emotions, both good and bad came up as you went through this visualization? Write this down.
Now, consider the scenario that you just visualized. If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? Who would you ask for help? What events could you see happening if you kept the visualization going? Spend no more than 5 minutes on this, but write this down.
This is a safe and effective exercise for tapping into your mind, body, energy, and emotion. There is no real threat and you're not dealing with a past, present, or future worry or concern. The goal isn't to necessarily assess, judge, or critique any portion of the visualization or your responses, but to get accustomed to feeling and noting those feelings.
When you feel more confident and comfortable, you can begin to utilize this same technique with experiences from your own life. When you get to this point, remember that there is no judgement or critique that needs to occur, only acknowledgement and acceptance.
I sincerely hope that this helps you on your journey to feeling and healing. As always, I'm here to help. Reach out anytime.