When was the last time you asked yourself if you are truly allowing yourself to feel all of your emotions? Feeling your feelings isn’t a question about simply noticing your feelings, but one about allowing them to flow all the way through you like a tidal wave raking the sands out of the bottom of your sea.
For years I’ve read beautiful Eastern perspectives rewritten and re-interpreted at large -beckoning us to cultivate awareness of our feelings so we can develop a relationship of becoming their observer – which can give us enough distance to develop a new relationship that eventually allows us to see feelings outside of our identity – which will help us to dislodge our attachment to them. Got all that?
This is most certainly an oversimplified explanation of something that is much deeper. The point is, that this is all true; but what I find is that although the same words are being repeated in one way or another, they difficult for a lot of people to grasp and hold on to. Here’s a reframe from another point of view.
Most of us can’t tolerate the intensity of the full spectrum of feeling our emotions all the way through. Mental health clinicians for example, are taught to help clients understand panic attacks in a rather tactical way. In short, we explain that the feeling of panic along with all of its mental and physical symptoms is not a permanent state. We say, “What goes up, must come down. It’s the rule of physics”. So if you are willing to allow the full state of panic, you will ideally see that you cannot sustain the height of panic, your body and mind will eventually come down from it. The key message: no one dies of a panic attack. They will pass.
So how do we relate this therapeutic message to other feelings in our lives? The feelings we have of pain, shame, unworthiness, abandonment, inadequacy, anger, resentment, blame and so on. How do we consistently feel those all the way through especially when they stick around. The deal is, they stick around because we don’t see them all the way through. We feel them; we may even explore them; sometimes we try to create a relationship with them; we try to fix them, and eventually we crash because they come back all over again. What happened to the reminder that what comes up, must come down? Could this also apply to our feelings?
Every therapeutic theory will tell you something different about why your feelings are there and how to move through them in a unique way. Most ideologies, theories and teachings will guide you through a process of letting them surface so you can let them go. This is akin to the old adage of facing your monster. Sometimes this works. Sometimes the monster comes back.
Our brains can be pretty stubborn. They put a record on, the record gets scratched, the needle gets stuck and the record just plays the same thing over and over again until you put a new record on. Yes, it’s an a old reference, but that’s exactly the point. Our brains live in the past, stuck to emotions, memories of those emotions and thoughts about these emotions that keep us on repeat.
In order to function, we often put these feelings into different pockets of, “I’ll deal with that later by switching my brain to dealing with the now”. This is a fascinating survival mechanism that allows us to get by day to day. The complication however, is that our brain continues to play the record we forgot to remove from the player somewhere else in the brain simultaneously. If only we could throw the record away, play a new one and call it a day. But we don’t.
So let’s consider that if what goes up, must come down, then what goes in, must come out.
Following are 6 steps to feeling your feelings all the way through.
1. Acknowledge your feelings no matter what. As in, “Oh hi there you are feeling. I see you; I feel you. Thank you for alerting me”.
2. Ask your feelings, what are you trying to tell me? Invite your feeling in for a quick chat and ask the feeling, “What is your message?”. If you figure out the why, allow yourself to be curious about it. If what you are feeling is angry, sad, bad and your only answer is, “I don’t know why.”, then invite yourself to be open without forcing an answer. Either way, be curious.
3. Invite yourself to be courageous to the feeling or feelings that are coming up. “I see you; I hear you; I’m willing to have a chat with you and be open and curious about you, but I’m also going to remind you that who I was before you came in is still here, so you are welcome as a visitor but not a permanent lodger.
4. Dance with your feeling. Imagine yourself on the dance floor with fear. Watch how fear moves. Does it lead or do you? Is it graceful or forceful or awkward? Dance with it and when you are ready, step away. Give fear a seat. You take another. You don’t have to stay in the dance.
5. After the visit, show the feeling the door. This allows you to experience with who you are without the feeling you are identifying with. This is admittedly a hard one because these feelings can feel more like intruders than visitors. This step requires you to take a leap acknowledging that you gave the feeling recognition, listening, curiosity, a visit, a dance and even a goodbye.
6. What happens when the visitor comes back? Sometimes, one visit of allowing the feeling all the way through is enough, sometimes you need many visits. But you decide if you are needing to take it in. If you know you have unfinished business with it, you may allow it come in for another visit and after time you might begin to hear a different message, a different dance.
Feeling your feeling is a process of allowing a feeling to come all the way THROUGH. It’s a process that may require repetition, but it’s also one that allows you to develop a relationship with your feelings that say, “I am here to learn from you but not host you forever”.
Lastly, you don’t have to go it alone. That’s the beauty of therapy, of support systems of healing. Seek the support you need. Get a butler to open your door so to speak. Here’s the thing, feelings are normal of course, but they can be pesky squatters that confuse us into thinking it’s our job to host them forever. When you feel them all the way through, you begin to develop a more honest relationship with them that actually empowers you because you begin to see them as visitors, teachers, guides, tides but not the whole ocean, the whole body of water and light and life that is truly you.