I recently had a conversation with a client who’s spent a great deal of time running from her feelings. Not in a “let me drown them in booze/Ben & Jerry’s/boyfriends" kinda way.
Too smart, in fact.
So smart, that she can outsmart herself.
“Amita, I just don’t have time to eat well. I’m too busy with my kids, career, being amazing.” (Yes, I edited in that last part, but it went something like that anyway)
After a long list of seemingly sensible excuses. I said:
“Wow! It sounds like you’re super busy. Maybe you’re just too busy to be human.”
Client: “Well, why would I want to be human when I can be better than a human? If I don’t do all those things and I just sat around and ‘felt things’ nothing would get done.”
Me: “If you think emotions are a poor use of your time. I have 2 things to tell you:
1) Your time management skills suck.
2) We need to teach you how to feel things gently.”
(I should note that I’m usually not this blunt with clients. But as Blogs require brevity, I’m paraphrasing.)
Many of us have developed intricate coping mechanisms. Ones that might not cause devastation, but keep us stagnant, nonetheless. Often the fear that we will collapse under the weight of an emotion keeps us “busy” with other things. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good distraction. I just checked my phone twice while writing this post. But let’s do a short-term/long-term cost-benefit analysis of not feeling emotions:
- Short-term impact of not feeling emotions-Awesome! Don’t have to feel icky, sad, or scared.
- Long-term impact of not feeling emotions- No Bueno. Results in self-sabotage, poor decisions, and anxiety.
The good news is that you don’t have to stay in bed for a week and cry. You can feel things gently.
- Notice it. Bring your awareness off of your iPone and to yourself. Are you feeling discomfort? Don’t worry about the “why,” just notice it.
- Name it. So often we lump emotions into one big bag of crap. Take time to differentiate them. For example, before a big work meeting you might feel “bad.” Break that down into parts. Is it anxiety? Is it nervousness? Is it excitement?
- Accept it. It seems contradictory, but feeling an emotion actually helps to process it out of you. Notice it and allow it to pass through you, flowing like a river. You don’t need to “do” or “fix” anything, just feel it. Often, we jump straight to a distraction or solution to make the feeling stop. By avoiding the feeling, it gets backed up in us (emotional constipation.)
- Be compassionate. Acknowledge the fact that it is completely normal to have ups and downs. Compassion isn’t the same as complacence. It’s a tool you can use to give yourself love. Whether that be through changing the words you use to describe yourself, staying present, or treating yourself like you’d treat a friend, there are many ways you can increase your self-compassion.
- Act on it. From a space of awareness, take action. It can be going for a walk, meditating, or calling a friend. Sometimes, action can be non-action. It can be not sending an angry text, having patience, or walking away.
Feeling our feelings isn’t something we’re taught in school. It makes sense that we suck at it.
We've emphasized learning skills that are “marketable,” and ignored the ones that make us happy.
Isn't it time we changed that?