Where do you stand on feelings?
I have to confess, historically I have not been a big fan of this whole “feelings” thing. Or, more specifically, I have thought of them as something to overcome, persist despite, or just ignore.
And it’s interesting, when I even mention feelings, I immediately default to all the negative ones: disappointed, sad, frustrated, irritated, afraid, inadequate, angry, heartbroken, despondent, lonely, embarrassed. You get the idea. Obviously I am not looking to overcome happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or compassion.
Maybe you haven’t given feelings much thought but have you ever found yourself saying anything like this?
It’s not that big a deal.
Other people have it worse.
I just have to do what I have to do.
These statements may seem benign, or maybe even positive, but when you take a minute to look closer they can also be interpreted as dismissive.
How do you feel when people are dismissive of you? It is one of my biggest triggers. (And honestly, who needs triggers?)
So despite the fact that I hate when people are dismissive, I am dismissive of myself. Let’s look at those sentences again.
It’s not that big a deal AKA I shouldn’t feel the way I do about it.
Other people have it worse AKA what I have isn’t valid or worthwhile.
I just have to do what I have to do AKA it doesn’t matter how I feel, what is important is my productivity.
These don’t sound so benign, right?
But why does it matter (other than not being a total jerk to yourself)? It matters because we think we are pushing these feelings away so that we don’t have to feel them and so that we can keep moving forward but in truth, the exact opposite happens.
Unfortunately, they don’t just go away if dismissed.Trust me, I’ve tried.
It’s like a huge abdominal wound that we just cover with a clean 4x4 and say it’s ok. It doesn’t make the wound go away. It may look better from the outside but at some point, that wound is going to need attention. It has to be uncovered, debrided and cleaned, given some air and packed with a new wet to dry dressing. It may be fine for a few hours and then we may need to repeat the whole process. It needs time, care, patience, and some tolerance for gross stuff. But the human body is amazing. With these things, wounds can heal,even terrible ones. I know because I have seen it first hand.
Of course, on a grand scale we know this to be true. We can identify that big wounds, wounds like the loss of a loved one takes time to process and heal from. But what about the smaller wounds, the annoying paper cut of a sharp word at work or the disappointment of feeling left out of something.
These feelings are the ones that we dismiss. It’s annoying to feel them and we don’t see the point the same way we would see the point of grieving a death.
But there is a point. Feeling even these smaller feelings is key to our overall health and wellness. If we annoy enough paper cuts, we can still bleed to death.
Ok, that’s a little dramatic but it makes the point. The only way to honestly get out of the feeling is allowing it to be there, which is very generous of us since it’s there whether we like it or not.
But why? Because this is the cost of being able to experience all the other feelings too. If we have a festering wound, can we fully experience joy? Can we experience contentment or satisfaction or is there always going to be the distraction of the feelings we pushed down under the surface in our busyness to be productive?
What if ALL the feelings were valid? What if all the feelings were just an experience of life and not some measure of our worth or maturity?
Let me give you an example. I had a really tough week at work. Typically I stay out of work drama but I found myself in the middle of it this week. The truth is, all of this takes practice and sometimes it is easier than others. This was not one of the easier times. By Wednesday, I felt myself drowning in frustration and aggravation, desperately doggy paddling to the shore of self compassion and self management. I knew I could work through this and respond carefully and kindly to people but I literally had to sit and experience the negative emotion before I could really get to the point that I could I have positive emotion.
I know it sounds crazy and I wish there was another way. I would have much preferred to think my way through the drama but my body was having no part of it. I had to sit and feel the tightness in my chest, the heat of my face, the racing heart. I had to sit and wait until it was done.
And then I had to do it again and again.
Honestly I was quite proud of myself. (There may have been some complaining to the other NP between sessions but I made progress.)
Then Thursday came and I thought I was in the clear until we got the horrible news that a coworker had unexpectedly lost a child. I felt like I had been sucker punched. I am not super close with this coworker but as a parent my heart literally felt like it was going to break in two. All day I felt distracted, incredibly sad, drained. But I “did what I had do do”, finishing my patient load, going to the dentist, and attending an afterwork meeting. Going to bed seemed like the only answer to yesterday and I was glad when I finally could just go to sleep.
And today, as I was getting ready to start this blog, I got a call that another friend and coworker had unexpectedly lost her son. WHAT THE HELL?
Even as I write this now, I am overwhelmed with emotion. This is why this blog did not come out this morning as usual. I started it. I told myself it has to get done, I made a commitment to EVERY Friday. And yet, my body was screaming for some attention, begging for some grace to have some time to do nothing other than feel all the things.
The truth is, I didn’t know the children of these coworkers but I FELT the tragedy of their loss. I was consumed with compassion for them as parents and with that compassion came heartbreak. What I HAD to do today was process all this. That didn’t fit into my schedule. I won’t get to cross things off my to do list with colorful sharpie. But I don’t want to fester.
I took a walk in the sun by myself, no music, no podcast, no phone calls. I sat on my hallway floor and cried. I put off my blog until I was ready, until I had allowed myself some time to not feel like I was smothering.
I want to feel compassion, and loss. I know that if I don’t feel these, I can’t feel joy or contentment. Life is 50/50. Fifty percent positive and fifty percent negative. When we push away or dismiss the negative half, those feelings don’t actually go away, they prevent us from feeling the positive half fully.
Feeling negative feelings doesn’t have to take a full day, especially for the papercut sized ones. It really just takes awareness and willingness.
Today I am giving myself a pass on writing something clever or mind-blowing. I just want to share with you that if you are willing to feel negative things and let your body process them, your life will be better. If you don’t know how, just slow down and observe what you are feeling. Just sit with it for a minute. It doesn’t have to involve chanting or meditative states. You will feel less stressed, not more.
You are strong enough to feel any emotion, and this is the key to feeling them all.