Feel your Emotions
“Feelings are like small children, you can’t lock them in the trunk and you can’t let them drive the car.” - From the Movie Thanks for Sharing.
I heard this quote in a movie several years ago and laughed out loud, identifying with the statement. So feelings as far as I can tell, are part of the human condition. An ongoing process of learning how to navigate them. How do we feel and function? Our emotions can be so intense that many of us do lock them in the metaphorical trunk, while others let their emotions drive the car. I’ve tried both of these strategies. Neither approach to my emotions left me feeling secure or better.
So how do we handle our often overwhelming and scary thoughts? Think about an baby, a little more that one year old, who has barely experienced the word, yet they have developed feelings. Hungry, cold, scared, happy, love, confusion, you get the picture. One minute they are as happy as a clam, playing with a toy. Then the toy gets taken away and they cry, out of frustration or just being upset. In the same moment we distract the child with a snack and the baby is quickly happy again. The child is present! The lost toy is in the past, and they don’t know enough about the future to become anxious, yet!
What if we could do the same? Experience the feeling or emotion we are having in the moment and say, “that sucks” or “I’m upset”. Be with that uncomfortable feeling for whatever time it takes and then we let it go. We live in a society that allows for happy, and fine and okay. But when it comes to frustration or anger or sadness, or even grief these feelings are not supported. Did you know that most employers are only required to give their employees two bereavement days? No wonder we lock our feelings in the trunk.
I grew up in a house where if I cried I was told, “stop crying or I will give you something to cry about”. What does that tell you? I learned at a young age showing sorrow wasn’t an option. It took me years to undo this learned behaviour. Now if I’m sad or feeling down I have people in my life I can safely share my feelings with, and in doing so I can let it go much quicker.
Recently, in a coaching class, our instructor offered this technique. She said, “emotions are going to come up when you are working with your clients, so acknowledge it, put it in a bubble, and then take a look at the emotion after your session.” Like a thought bubble! What a great idea. I’m allowing myself to come back to the emotions later, then when I take a look at why an emotion was triggered I can learn about what I may need to work on.
Burying our emotions is being stuck. When we hold on to something for too long it becomes resentment and that shows up in our body. Resentment is ugly. It serves no one but more specifically it harms the one who carries it. It becomes this enormous weight, and often the resentment is about another individual, who is more or less free of the burden we carry. Move those emotions, express them to yourself first. What do you feel? Is it fear, anger or sorrow? Say it, “I feel angry”, Write it down. Just get it out of your head. What is the root cause?
It can be tough to identify the root cause of an emotion. This is when talking to someone is helpful. A trusted friend or a coach or like minded professional, can be a cathartic way to explore your feelings and deep seeded emotions. I know from experience that this is daunting. Why would you want to explore any painful emotions? Because at some point in your life these feelings will manifest in a negative way. They need reverence.
Get in tune with where an emotion lands in your body. This is such a profound way to identify what you are feeling. When we have a feeling, be it joy, love, fear or frustration, it isn’t only in our head. The emotion manifests in the body. Feelings of fear can make our vision narrow and our pulse quicken. Joy is uplifting and we feel energized, our confidence rises as the feel good hormones are released. Anger leave us feeling fatigued and contracted of our midsection. This stresses the body and can raise our cortisol levels and create serious health issues. I can tell you all of this and you can logically make sense of it, but you really do need to experience these feelings to understand, on a cellular level.
Years ago I saw a therapist to help me manage my overwhelming emotions. I’m embarrassed to admit, I wasn’t in touch with my body or how my anger and fear where hurting me and the people in my life. There was something off and I could sense this, but I couldn’t articulate what was going on. My body had learned to bottle up emotions and shove them deep down inside. Or put them in my mental trunk! By my late thirties my trunk was ready to burst. I couldn’t keep a lid on my emotions anymore. I was acting out. Feeling almost hostile. Growing up with a bi-polar mother and experiencing traumatic situations gave me a hard shell.
My therapist took a unique approach with me, as I’m sure she could see that I was struggling to open up about what I was feeling. She asked me if I would be open to hypnosis. At first I imagined my mind being Pandora’s box and if I went through with the hypnosis all my deepest darkest thoughts and fears would surface. I pictured the demons being exorcized from my body, like a scene from the move poltergeist. I was apprehensive, well actually I was terrified! Still, I put my fears aside and let my therapist perform her magic.
Within a few months of going through hypnosis, my feelings began to emerge. I felt things I had no idea where inside of me. I felt sorrow, and grief that I’d buried from the death of my parents, years before. I felt love and gratitude for my healthy children, and a new appreciating for the little girl living in my subconscious that needed to be nurtured. It was one of the more difficult and yet liberating therapies I’d ever experienced.
Now I let myself sit with a feeling, I journaled and I talk about it. When the feelings overwhelmed me I ran and let the tears flow out of my body, like layers of ice melting. It is an essential part of life for me! As humans we have the capacity to access the vastness of unconditional love and we can also experience indifference the opposite of love. All the emotions in between are extensions of love or indifference. So what if you don’t have feelings? Maybe you are stoic? In that case skip this chapter all together!
My theory is that even if we think we are even keel all the time, nothing really affects our mood, or changes the way we feel (stoic), there are people in our lives that have emotions.There are more of the feeling people in the world than the stoics. It then still serves you to understand feelings and emotional responses so that you are better equipped to navigate an emotional friend or family member. The worst thing we can say to a child is “Stop crying!” We say that because we are the ones who are frustrated, or have an issue with the tears. Let the child cry, let yourself cry. It won’t last forever. Just think of tears as the body letting go of a painful emotion.
If you cut yourself deep enough to need stitches would you ignore that pain?
The Feeling Test:
Take note of your emotions over the next week. When you feel a certain way write it down. If something good happens how do you respond? When you are afraid what happens to your body? Just taking notes will be an insightful way to get to know what triggers you. Or if you are in fact a modern day stoic! It’s when we begin to notice our triggers or tendencies that we experience growth! Now go on, get emotional!