A human being just 'being'
I have had lots of clients telling me they feel guilty about being scared or finding themselves crying in the current situation with COVID-19. So, I would like to share my own personal feelings.
Many of us, as children, when we got upset were told; “don’t cry”, "don't be silly", “there’s nothing to be sad about”, "I'll give you something to cry about!".
We get pushed into the belief that we should ignore feelings and unpleasant emotions. Then, when we grow up, we not only chastise ourselves internally for this, but we hold it over those around us too, making them judge their emotions. So, for lots of people when we experience difficult emotions we try to escape them, not quite knowing what to do with them.
We then bring in judgement, which creates feelings like guilt or "should" language. When we do that, we often turn to other ways of coping through alcohol, drugs, restricting food, binging, busyness, compulsive sex, or many other self-harming behaviours.
What would happen if you try a different pattern like 'lean into' your emotion, rather than trying to numb your feeling?
One thing about feelings is that they move; they are not set in stone. With time, feelings change, they are different from day-to-day or week-to-week or even in moments. They come and go, rise and fall. No feeling lasts forever.
Anger, sadness and fear are necessary parts of being. All of our emotions are happening because of a bodily or emotional trigger. It's natural, but our societal guidelines add judgement to these. Instead of just riding or acknowledging them we judge what we feel.
Riding emotions can be like learning to ride a bike and being in touch with your mind and body. At first, you don't know how your mind, your body and the bike all join together. Once you use the bike every day, through that journey, you start to get a sense of it. You get to know how you feel on it in different places, journeys and terrain. You sense any imbalance quicker and your ride becomes more familiar. You don't topple and fall as easily, you have examined the potholes that knock you off and how to go around them, the pieces of equipment that help you stay safe are brought in.
If you ignore learning how to ride your bike and just bring the bike out every now and again, you don't develop the same ability to ride it. You learn that it's scary and avoid it more for fear of bruises.
Learning on your bike every day is different: you develop resilience, you learn that your bruises heal, your sense of your own body's feelings can be spotted in a nanosecond, it becomes natural, you see a pothole coming up and get a sense of dread but your experience kicks in and you navigate it, realising you're getting the hang of cycling. In fact, it's automatic on routes you know, but easier even on routes you don't know. You navigate the pothole with prior experience; your body kicks in before your mind and you're now on to a straight run until the next pothole. It's a journey, and you're getting skilled. Our body and minds work the same with emotion.
Fighting feelings leads to more suffering or resistance. Avoiding bruises means never navigating the journey. Trying to ignore our feelings is like hiding them in a dark box on top of the wardrobe. As soon as it's bumped hard enough the box is sent flying scattering all over the place; our hidden feelings out in the open; messy, mixed up, more than one even accumulating. Undealt with, raw, and let's face it; trying to repack anything back in a box never seems to fit back in again. When they are in the box they might make us feel better temporarily, but boxing them up and ignoring them does not 'fix' the underlying problem.
Might it be then, that we could look at them when they are happening? Allowing ourselves to feel? Understanding that when we suppress our feelings, it's just a short fix. Can we decide to be a mindful observer of our feelings? Do you ever just sit to notice the emotions that you experience and located wherever you feel them in your body? How would it be to try to develop a curious and nonjudgmental approach?
Our emotions are often messengers which signal something important that we need to pay attention to. We have a great habit of getting angry or judging ourselves if we struggle to deal with an emotion. That inner voice comes back from the childhood messages - boom!: judgement. What if we took that judgement away and were kinder to ourselves? You know that place we go to in others, of accepting it's ok for them to feel like that. You know that place when we look at our child or loved one unconditionally without judgement, just allowing them to feel. How about giving yourself that compassion?
Self-compassion is really just treating yourself the way you would a loved one who was sad or struggling. You deserve to allow yourself the same kindness.
Experiencing your emotions: just feeling them, examining them, exploring them. Let go of judgement and berating yourself for feeling emotions, for example: "I feel sad.....but what have I got to feel sad about? I should be ashamed for feeling this way when I have so many things to feel grateful for, I have no right to feel this way, I must get a grip...".
Just notice these sensations and thoughts when they arise; don't attach value to them. So the emotion or thought of "I feel sad" may feel heavy as a sensation. You can say to yourself:
"I feel the heaviness in my throat, I notice that I am enduring this sensation, I notice it in my stomach when I breathe, I notice I have felt this feeling before, It feels less/more now, I can just sit with this, it's a kind of flat feeling, it's almost a colour, maybe grey. Sadness, hmmm, it's a lonely feeling in this instance" etc.
Your feelings and sensations will be your own individual experience and probably will be very different from mine, but hopefully, this example gives you an idea.
Take the feelings out the box and look right at them: bring them into your light, get to know them, explore the pain, joy, distress, tolerate that wave - it's not forever. Just be with it. Allowing yourself to move through painful experiences is to let yourself feel.
You could try drawing it, writing about it, sensing where it is in your body and what the sensation feels like. There could be many ways to process your emotions. I would love to hear your ideas or if you have done this or if you will try it.
But just being with them is maybe something you have not gently allowed yourself to do before. Once you get to know what each one feels like they become familiar. When we are familiar with things we are more prepared for managing them.
Managing our emotions is something we can learn to do if we are willing to take the time. We can feel more in control of our responses, and find resilience in dealing with events in our lives. You may find that speaking with a therapist may provide insight into better ways of managing your feelings. You can search the Counselling Directory database to find someone that resonates with you and will walk with you on this journey.