“I feel bad”.
“I don’t want to feel this way”.
“I just need to be more positive”.
“I just need to snap out of it.”
How familiar are these phrases?
I have been thinking a lot about how common it is for us to disregard ourselves and belittle our emotions. Or some of them. The socially unacceptable ones. What emotions are you not willing to feel? Sadness? Hurt? Shame? Fear? Anxiety? Uncertainty? What is on your list?
Notice that none of the emotions I just listed are “bad” – they just do not feel very nice. And that is an important distinction to make.
When we refuse to feel emotions we perceive as “bad”, we are essentially shutting down our responses to life's challenges. When we are unwilling to feel the full range of our emotions, we may be more prone to running away from the causes than trying to deal with the problems that are causing them. This can lead to feelings of being stuck or trapped, and that’s never going to feel good.
This is exactly what happens when we decide to try and deny our feelings rather than deal with them. But who gets taught how to process our emotions? We don't know what to do with ourselves when all of these chemicals are rushing around our bodies, and the only message we are receiving is “Escape!” Each time we do this, we lose an opportunity to learn about ourselves. And others. And we missed a moment to grow.
All of our emotions can be powerful teachers, helping us to better understand ourselves and the world around us. By avoiding a particular range of emotions, we signal to our brains these feelings are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. And the problem with this, is that learning, growing, development and basically a lot of FUN stuff, involves us being willing to get things wrong and course correct and feel dreadful so we can get creative. None of that stuff is possible from the comfort of stagnation.
In addition, refusing to feel bad can also prevent us from forming healthy relationships. When we are not willing to be vulnerable and open with others, it can be difficult for us to form deep, meaningful connections. (And of course, this includes with ourselves).
We all crave authenticity and strive for more comfort, pleasure and joy in our world and the great old-life irony is that it takes a lot of being willing to sit in being uncomfortable to develop these muscles.
So what can we do about it? There are many ways of processing emotions. But one of the first steps for many of us is just to notice and name them.” Oh, this is going on for me” or “I feel frustrated / hopeless / sad”. Notice what it feels like in your body. Notice what it makes you want to do or not do. Just this simple act of awareness can sometimes be enough to break the loop of feeling like we're trapped. Or “If I let myself feel this, I will never stop.”
Being willing to experience our emotions is key to being willing to feel all of life has to offer. For you to have the most full and authentic version of your own life, being willing to feel rubbish is the key to being willing to feel more of yourself. Your life stops being a game of trying to resist negative emotions and realising that you have the power and the strength to be able to experience all sides of yourself (including parts you may have previously shut down). Being willing to dabble in your own emotions is an experiment in giving yourself permission to be fully alive. And this is what living true to yourself tastes like.