Emotions are intense. They rock us. We have to deal with them. Someone says something the wrong way, or we are in a difficult situation and all of a sudden we might find ourselves in a fury, or in deep grief, or perhaps an awful sense of embarrassment and shame as if we are ‘bad’. When we are in these feeling places we usually don’t have any perspective, or not much. It is like we got dropped off and lost in some horrible bad place and we cannot get ourselves out. We have no control. We don’t know what happened to us. And on top of that, we often judge ourselves for having these lapses of control, or even worse, deny they ever happened. (This last one is sure to wreck havoc on your relationships.) And it is scary. What if our out of control feelings cause someone to judge us or reject us?
One way around this is to prevent ourselves from having feelings. When I run into this in my practice, I generally refer to the ‘basement’ with all the feelings that are locked in and can’t get out. You have to disconnect from yourself to do this. You may feel more in control, but it is a disastrous state for a human being who has to know his or herself and relate to others. We end up depressed, or detached and shut down, or having reactions way out of proportion to events that jump out and ambush whoever is unlucky enough to trigger us.
Recently for me, I had some very large feelings come up. They just pushed their way through and I let myself experience them. Meanwhile I felt confused, ashamed, and small, wondering what was wrong with me. Pretty interesting as I’m somebody who is extremely good at unearthing and processing the hard stuff. It made me realize how primal these feelings were and how hard it is for all of us as emotional beings to let the emotions take over and just experience them without judgment and without control.
The fear I think, is that either we are crazy, or that these feelings will pummel us for the rest of our lives and we won’t be able to live with ourselves, be adult, logical, and rational. And yes, this can be part of the process of somebody with a major mood disorder, but that means they don’t have the other piece of solid ground they can hold onto and use as an anchor. Instead it is a place they live in. But this isn’t true for most of us.
I realized something else too. The only way I was going to transcend what I was struggling with was by allowing the feelings to come through. So, lying on my yoga mat during savasana, I just let the tears come up and I let myself completely feel the shame and grief that was moving though me. Then it got clearer. I could see a piece of my past differently than ever before. I could see a very specific negative message I had gotten and how it had hindered me. And I could see that by allowing myself to feel, I was processing and letting go of this belief. I couldn’t change the belief until I experienced and released all the feelings that were connected to it. I couldn’t transcend the old me until I let myself go and really experienced what these feelings were. This type of change is not a mental decision, but an emotional process.
This is the part of therapy that people who haven’t had therapy don’t understand. Yes, we talk about things and make sense of them, but often, for many of us, there is a very emotional piece that must occur. It is like a tidal wave coming through, taking whatever is not solid with it, so that after it retracts the landscape is different. Who we are has been changed permanently.
Yes, it is scary to descend into the depths of our feelings where the logical rational world isn’t present. But it is also a very important aspect of healing. We do survive these lapses. And we have to tell ourselves, “these are just feelings”. “I am not crazy.” Experiencing feelings in this way is important. They are telling us something we need to know, something about how our reality has been constructed. This is the releasing process that occurs when we are making big changes in who we are. It is part of what must happen when we have core beliefs that need to shift.
Experiencing feelings is part of being human. It is also part of the process of healing. Reacting out of our feelings is very different than feeling these feelings. For instance, snapping at somebody and blaming him or her for something is very different than experiencing the grief of being disappointed and hurt. Once you allow yourself to descend into the disappointment and hurt, you can find the part of you that wasn’t valued at another point in your life. You can explore and come to understand how that has impacted you. You can get to know that grief and then you can heal from it.
How do you deal with your feelings?
Do you recognize them as a valuable part of living?
Do you try to avoid them?
Do they jump out at inopportune moments and sabotage you?
Do you allow yourself to have them and process them?
Do you get stuck in them, or can you understand their message and release them?