I was working with a client the other day and I could tell she was hitting the wall. We’ve only seen each other a few times and I could see our work together was bringing up a lot of emotion. She even told me, “I don’t know how I can do all this. There’s so much to deal with – it’s too overwhelming.”
I understood what she meant. It can definitely feel overwhelming when we start unpacking all the baggage we’ve been carrying around for years. It can be daunting. And scary. Especially when those pesky emotions start rising to the surface.
Which they do. They always do.
I don’t know about you but I have spent a lifetime learning how to keep those puppies down. Because emotions can totally suck. Who wants to feel fear or loneliness or shame or inadequacy?
Nope. Let’s not do that. Why not have a drink instead? Or a cigarette? Or a pill? Maybe a piece of pie? Or how ’bout the whole pie?
It’s all the same.
I call those Easily Identifiable Emotion Suppressants. In moderation, they’re called vices.
In excess, they’re called addictions.
Addictions are awesome, btw. I used to smoke cigarettes. And I loved it. I could take the edge off almost any emotion with a cigarette and a can of Coca Cola. Ah… Nothing like it.
What I found interesting was this: I smoked more when I was sad or stressed out. Of course – that makes sense. But I also smoked more when I was happy or when something good happened.
What was that about?
Okay. I’ll tell you what that was about! I was uncomfortable with my negative AND positive emotions, i.e., I was uncomfortable with ALL MY EMOTIONS.
Keep it neutral. Keep it safe. That was my unspoken motto.
When something good or bad would happen, an alarm would go off in my mind that said: Please don’t feel this.
So I wouldn’t.
Now cigarettes and booze and pie are not the only ways to avoid our emotions. Equally damaging and even more convincing are the Socially Acceptable Emotion Suppressants.
Those go under the headings of Perfectionism, Fear, Worry, the Need to Please, Always Keeping Busy – and a host of others. They seem harmless enough. But I don’t believe fear, for instance, is a real emotion. (Unless you’re getting chased down the street by a maniac).
These Emotion Suppressants feel like emotions but are really masking the true emotions – the ones we don’t want to feel. I’ll give you an example: I’m so sad because I don’t feel good enough and nobody is ever going to love me. I’m so sad I think I might die.
Now that’s an emotion!
We’ll do almost anything not to feel it. But what are we actually running from? Why are our emotions so darn frightening?
I think it’s because we don’t have enough tools to help us work through them. They can feel so uncomfortable. As humans, we will do anything to avoid being uncomfortable. Because somehow, some way, we are convinced that that little uncomfortable feeling is going to kill us.
So back to my client and the overwhelming emotions. I couldn’t lie to her. I had to say feeling the emotions is part of the healing process. Because it is. It took a long time to bury them all. It’s going to take a little time to dig them out.
And it’s going to be uncomfortable.
For a while.
Until you start actually listening to the emotions. And realizing they’ve been trying to tell you things all along. Good things. Real things. Our emotions are our great internal truth-tellers. When we were sad as a child, it was real. When that friend hurt our feelings, it was real.
But at some point, we stopped listening to the hurt. We stopped listening to the joy. (’cause it’s all the same)
We stopped listening to our internal truth.
Don’t you remember – you were really okay when you fell down and skinned your knee. You were really okay when your friend didn’t invite you to her sleepover. You were really okay when you got yelled out and it wasn’t your fault.
At least, that’s what somebody told you. And every time we chose to believe them, the volume on our internal voice got turned down a notch. We quit listening to our emotions. We quit listening to their wisdom and truth. Until, one day, they were strangers. Frightening, unwanted and suspicious strangers.
Choosing to feel instead of choosing to numb is a noble act. But it’s okay to take it in little bites. We have to remember – all those emotions weren’t buried in a day. It might take a series of days or weeks or even years to bring them all back to the surface. During the process, my best advice is kindness. Self-kindness. Self-love. What a concept.
Take a walk. Take a nap. Read a Louise Hay book.
It’s all going to be okay.