Maybe it’s just me, and please do correct me if I’m wrong, but these days it seems like people just don’t want to feel their feelings anymore. Bad feelings; they run away from, good feelings; they are so afraid of losing, that they prevent themselves from even feeling them at all. It’s like feelings have become this thing that people take pride in not having or want to protect themselves from. Personally, I know that struggle. Due to some unforeseen circumstances and things not happening the way I thought they would over the last couple of years (I won’t get into too much detail), I’ve spent a good chunk of that time repressing feelings and emotions simply because a) I’ve convinced myself that they make me weak and b) I don’t like to let people know what’s really going on in my mind, or what I’m really going through. Vulnerability is just not my thing. And I’ve come to realise that the quickest way to solve not having to be vulnerable is simply not having anything to be vulnerable about, or, not exposing things that show my vulnerability. So as far as feelings go, you can trust that I’m likely to downplay them, or pretend them away altogether. I can’t really say for sure why I’m this way but I imagine if I were sitting in a therapists office, I would be pointed to look in the direction of my childhood and be asked something like “would you say that this may have something to do with how you grew up?”… And in thinking about it, I guess I’d have to say: yup, most probably.
Here is a disclaimer though: my childhood was great, honestly. I look back to some of those years with such fondness and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But, (you knew it was coming) are there things that I would change? Yes. Particularly when it comes to the more emotional side of things. For starters, crying was such a big deal in the sense that you couldn’t really just do it. You needed a very good reason to, and I found that the closest to a good reason was physical injury. Other than that tears would just annoy or make adults feel uncomfortable. Now that I’m grown, I know that this said more about their emotional health than mine, but who knew that at the time. As children we just knew that crying = don’t let them see you do it. It felt wrong, like our tears were an admission of everything — guilt, embarrassment, manipulation, weakness — but never sadness. Tears never meant you were sad or hurt. So naturally, we developed an unhealthy relationship to tears and what they represented. To this day I get so annoyed when I cry, because it feels like I have allowed whatever it is to get the best of me…and big girls, strong girls, don’t let things get the best of them, and that’s why expressing certain feelings makes me feel like I’m being weak. Secondly, as a child having feelings seemed like it was an inconvenience to the person you were expressing them to, they were always downplayed or not given any attention and because of that it felt like you had to handle all those feelings on your own. So it became close to pointless to try and express yourself when it came to certain things, because it would feel like “this is not such a big deal anyway”… and I believe, this is why I don’t really like to tell people what I’m dealing with because I don’t want to be an inconvenience. So you see, this is where you find me now, at about a 6 on the emotional scale or at least I’d like to think so.
Because while I still have a few unhealthy habits, like not wanting to show vulnerability and using the words “I’m fine” more than necessary, over the years I have actually learned to feel my feelings, even if I do so quietly. I have learned to allow, appreciate and embrace my feelings. And it’s all thanks to God, because I know a lot of people with similar stories to mine who may have grown up with a few emotional restrictions that struggle to feel and express themselves, and it’s understandable. But God allowed me opportunities to grow in that department, to not be completely shut off to receiving and expressing emotion. Even though I may not have had the best start He didn’t allow it to completely define me, because today I strongly subscribe to the idea that your feelings are valid — every. single. one of them. I say this to my friends all the time too, because I find that we tend to always preface our conversations with “I know I shouldn’t be so upset” or “maybe I’m wrong to feel this way” or “it’s not such a big deal” but I think that’s a problem. Society has made us think that being people capable of feeling is a flaw — something we need to apologise for, something that makes us needy when we choose to share with each other. But we all feel. As long as you’re alive, you feel, and feeling means that you have the ability to care and love with great depth. It means that you are able to give your heart away to what and who you love. It means that you are able to experience life through the entire spectrum of emotions, blissful happiness but yes, also great sadness. But that’s okay, because this ability is our greatest strength. I’m actually reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:4 that says
He comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.
So in the same way our greatest strength could be in going through things to help others go through the same thing — be it good or bad. So as far as feeling your feelings goes, here’s what I have to say to that: let yourself feel every single one of them.
The things that you feel, they don’t need to make sense. You don’t need to understand them. They don’t need to be approved or validated, and you definitely don’t need to fix them or change them. You just need to acknowledge and accept that they are there and they are real. Especially when it comes to pain. Pain sucks, being hurt sucks — if we could avoid it altogether, that would be ideal. I know because I would give my left butt cheek to not have to deal with some of the things I’ve been dealing with over the past few years. But seeing as though I’m still kinda sitting pretty in it, I have to remind myself that suffering is part of the deal we got here on earth (thanks Eve), and I can’t avoid it. I can’t be an ostrich with my head in the sand thinking that sooner or later my pain will disappear. It unfortunately doesn’t work like that. If anything, avoiding the pain only delays its effect on you. The way I see it, the feelings of hurt, frustration, anger, confusion, have to go somewhere, and if we don’t fully experience them, they will take shape in other ways, maybe as anxiety, depression, emotional challenges, stress, health problems, who knows, but whatever it is, you can trust it won’t be anything good. I remember at one point, during this journey of mine, not being motivated to do anything. I felt constantly stressed to the point that I didn’t care to do anything. My sister and my friends would encourage me to do things, to put my hands to work, something; but that energy, that effort just wouldn’t come to me. And looking back I can safely say its because I truly didn’t allow myself to process my feelings and process them in a healthy way — (I’ll get to this).
But there’s a misconception that feeling your feelings means wallowing in them, putting them above everything, and using them as an excuse for behaviour or lack thereof, but to me it means sitting with them, acknowledging them, and not pushing them away. It’s saying “I am sad”, “I’m angry” ,”I am hurt by this, or by you”, “I feel helpless”, “I am struggling” etc. It’s sitting with the discomfort of those feelings cause Lord knows they aren’t pleasant, and not turning to a crutch (drugs, alcohol, sex, rebounds, work) or running away from them. This is a hard one for me, well.. the sitting in the discomfort part; because I’d sooner avoid. I’d sooner be the girl on the streets that people say after years “oh wow, I had no idea you were going through that” because that would at least mean I’ve done a great job at pretending. But the truth is, pretending just steals my ability to live fully. It only takes me so far, and that’s why they say you have to feel it to heal it. Because at the most basic level this means that in order to heal (which of course we want to right?) you simply need to acknowledge what the problem is. Like with the 12 step program, the first step is always admission; you can’t get to #12 without first admitting there is a problem. Likewise, you can’t get to healing without acknowledging what the problem is.
For me, a lot of my pain has to do with the things of God, understanding things like His timing, and His purpose for me and believing His promises. So a lot of the time I’m in my feelings, I am in my feelings with Him, which helps because at least I know where to go to sit in my feelings. But I found that it has also helped to talk about it with the people close to me, I might not always do it, because hey.. old habits die hard, but just knowing that I am not alone helps with the processing of the feelings that I go through. But I will say, I know that the meaning of “processing ones feelings” is up for debate because “to process” means something different to different people. To some it’s the bottle, to others it’s exercise, or withdrawal etc. And I will admit, I definitely do not have the answers on what the “right” way to feel your feelings and process them is, in fact I think it’s safe to say there really is no “right” way because we may all go through the exact same thing but feel it differently, so naturally one mans medicine could be another mans poison. But, I do think there are at least healthy ways to do so.
Again, I’m no expert and I can only speak for myself. But I’ve found that aside from being able to talk to the ones closest to me, its being able to do this: write. Put my feelings down on paper. Journal. There are often times that saying something out loud will bring me back to that place of feeling like an inconvenience, or feeling “shame” or feeling vulnerable, but instead of bottling it up, I process whatever feelings I have by writing them down. That for me, has the same effect as saying a prayer does, I feel weightless afterwards. I don’t feel stuck, or too burdened anymore. And I know it’s just an exercise of the mind because by writing down my problems I’m not exactly solving them.. I know, but the process allows me to appreciate and embrace my feelings, and through that sometimes I’m in the position to then think about how I can make myself feel better. Which is why I couldn’t agree more with the idea that you have to feel it to heal it. Pretending things away only creates a barrier between me and my problem (for us avoiders this sounds great, but here’s another cliche for you, the only way out is through. So if we have a barrier between us and our problems we’re only keeping ourselves on the other side).
So when it comes to feeling your feelings, don’t be afraid, feel the pain, feel the fear, feel the anger, feel the devastation, feel the hurt and then, don’t be afraid to start to feel the healing so that you may feel the joy, feel the peace, feel the love, feel the hope etc… Forget always priding yourself for keeping everything inside:
I hope that you will cry.
I hope that you will laugh.
I hope that you will feel.