My previous job in advertising kept my mind in this constant state of busyness. There was always something to do–a problem to solve, an email to craft, a presentation to design. It was stimulating and kept my brain in a constant state of movement.
In my new work in health coaching, I find my mind in a constant state of feeling, of exploring. It’s also stimulating but actually forces my brain to slow down, to dig deeper, to question more.
My therapist always used to say to me that I needed to learn to “Feel your feelings, Em. You don’t allow yourself to feel your feelings”.
What in the hell does that even mean?!?, I always raged in my head. She’s nuts. All I do is feel shit. Depressed. Lonely. Self-loathing. Resentful.
Crappy, crappy feelings!
I had a moment the other day where I think I finally figured out what she meant. Experiencing an emotion is not necessarily the same as feeling that emotion.
Certain emotions are pleasant to experience. When we're proud or excited, we tend to revel in it, to wrap that feeling around us like a cozy blanket and embrace its pleasurable effects. But when we feel sad or lonely or ashamed, we want to shed those feelings. It’s why so many of us turn to other stimuli to numb those feelings–for some, like me, it was food. For others it's drugs, or shopping, or sex, or something else. I believe the root of all these addictions is the same; no one is better or worse than another. We're seeking a way to feel something else. Or to feel nothing at all. Because feeling certain emotions hurts too damn much.
Through my struggle with depression, I often felt unworthy and resentful that this was my life. It didn’t seem fair that I had worked so hard only to be so unhappy. But rather than sitting with that resentment and allowing myself to explore it–or, god forbid, share it with anyone else–I berated myself for feeling it. How could I be so ungrateful when I am so fortunate and have so many things that others don’t?
Sadness overcame me all the time, but I never granted myself permission to just feel it for as long as I wanted or needed to. I never shared it with anyone else because that made it real, it made it valid and I didn't believe it was valid. Those feelings needed to be drowned out immediately. And shame on me for having them in the first place!
Well, this moment I had where it came together for me stemmed from a rather common thought that passes through my brain:
Ugh. How amazing would it be to have a body like hers? How good would my life be if I looked like that?
My initial instinct was to attach judgment.
Emily, you know better. Thin doesn’t mean happy. That goes against everything you preach to your clients.
And then I paused. How could I judge myself for having a thought? We can’t control thoughts coming into our heads. And if I'm honest with myself, that’s a thought I might intermittently have for the rest of my life. It comes up less often than it used to, but it’s certainly still present.
Having the thought isn’t necessarily what matters, though. It's how we respond to it that holds the real power. So I pushed myself a little further and realized that I had spent the day outside, working on a business I created because I genuinely believe that it’s my life’s purpose. Later that night I would be drafting the vows which I will exchange with my future husband in 2 short months.
WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WOULD I WANT ANYONE’S LIFE BUT MY OWN? I’ve never been happier.
That was when it clicked. Experiencing an unpleasant emotion or having a negative thought is fine. Healthy, even. Don't try to dismiss it as fast as possible.
“You need to feel your feelings, Em”.
Look at them. Wonder about them. Say them outloud. What happens?
It's human nature to seek pleasure and to seek to end discomfort. But our ability to not just experience an emotion, but to really explore it, is hugely powerful. It’s not easy. Sometimes it's downright painful. But it’s also what allows us to grow, to learn and to come out the other end in a better place than we ever thought possible.
The next time you experience an emotion, good or bad, try not to shoo it away or figure out a way to “fix” it.
Let me know in the comments below:
How does it FEEL? Where do you FEEL it? When you sit with it, what does it uncover for you?