What do you do when an uncomfortable or painful feeling suddenly hits you? Do you have a coping mechanism of choice – perhaps reach for the wine or your phone (or any other object) to distract and numb from what’s whirling around your head?
Do you do your best to banish the feeling fast, because just sitting still and feeling would be akin to torture?
As a small girl and teenager I had a LOT of painful feelings. A sensitive only child of divorced parents, the world often seemed like a very scary place. I always felt that my mother didn’t really understand me. Crying and complaining were big no-no’s, so I learned very early on how to suppress my feelings. I did it well.
I somehow knew that I wasn’t being authentic to myself, but I didn’t think that it mattered all that much. As long as everybody else around me was OK (my mother, and later my husband and kids), I was happy. Except I wasn’t happy. I told myself that I was happy because that’s what I’d been conditioned to do.
Over the years I became master at denying what was going on inside me. At what was really going on. I sometimes cried a little in my room, in private, but I never dwelled in that place long. I convinced myself that I was being silly, or selfish, and promptly replaced my well-worn mask. I was scared to sit with my feelings.
I was scared that if I did allow myself to feel – to just feel – the world would come crashing down around me. It was painful and it was confronting, and it just didn’t happen.
Then came the day that my husband walked out on our seventeen year marriage.
I couldn’t deny that. I couldn’t deny that that was the biggest (and baddest) thing to ever happen to me. I couldn’t pretend that it was OK. So I cried. I SCREAMED. I punched walls. I swore. I banged my fists against my thighs until I was physically and emotionally spent. I did most of this in private, but I did it. After, I found myself shocked by how cathartic it all was.
When the anger subsided I was left with overwhelming feelings of sadness and pain. They were harder to deal with – much easier to lash out in anger than it is to sit and feel sad. Yet I somehow intrinsically knew that the only way OUT of the pain – pain quite unlike anything else I’d ever experienced – was THROUGH it. Every heartbreaking, excruciating minute of it.
So, I made a tentative, somewhat uneasy pact with myself. I told myself that it was time to grow up, and to be real. To learn how to be alone. To learn how to self-soothe. To grieve – to ALLOW the grief – in whatever form it presented itself (some days it changed form by the hour). I did small things daily, things like sitting in the bath alone, sometimes for an hour or two at a time, with literally nothing but tea and an open window for company.
I went deep inside of myself and examined my wounds. I told myself that the time of suppressing myself – my feelings and emotions and everything else – had to come to an end. I was forty years old and was sick of changing myself, my true self, to make other people comfortable.
I was surprised to learn that the sadness did not kill me. It sometimes delivered wisdom and lessons. Lessons about myself, about my childhood wounds, and about what I needed to do to heal, once and for all. One of the most important lessons was this:
Feelings, as with everything, pass. I learned to not get caught up in the feelings. I knew that in order to continue to function, I could not. I learned to observe, learn… and let go.
And in time, over time, I healed. I healed wholly and beautifully.
Of course, I am not proposing here that when going through a shit time we each do nothing but sit and be miserable, and wait for a deep depression to envelop us. Life still goes on. For the most part, we still need to function as human beings. We still need to interact with others and the world.
There is a fundamental difference between allowing our feelings, and getting completely lost in them.
When we are in the space of simply allowing our self to sit with our feelings, to ride through the unpleasantness and the pain with the knowledge that the feeling or feelings WILL pass – as all things pass – we are doing ourselves a massive favour.
The key always is to LEARN and LET GO. If the feeling returns – as it likely will if you are in the midst of grief – repeat the process. It will all eventually pass. Trust in this. If a particular feeling persists, be brave enough to delve deep and ASK what the lesson is. Ask your quiet self WHY the feeling is there, and allow the answers to come. Don’t be afraid of the answers.
It may take a little practise (as all worthwhile things do) but learning how to sit and feel, whatever it is you’re feeling, may well be one of the greatest and most loving things you can do for yourself. It may just lead you to your best and most authentic self. It did me.
How about you? Are you scared of feeling your unpleasant feelings? Please, share your thoughts in the comments.
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