Feeling your feelings aha moment.
I feel like “feel your feelings” and “you gotta feel to heal” are clichés that I don’t understand what they look like in practice. I was frustrated by this topic in a therapy session and told my therapist, “WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!” She then told me about an experience of when she was recently agitated and she felt her feelings. I still just couldn’t grasp it, so I said a bit exasperated, “BUT WHAT DID YOU DO?!” And she said, and this was the aha moment for me, “I just lived it, without going into skill.”
She went on to say: “If you’re constantly in skill, you will never be present.”
Skills/coping strategies/distraction techniques were really helpful for me in coming out of the eating disorder. AND(!) still are helpful to this day when I find myself dysregulated beyond my capacity (Hello, whiny kids. You take me down.). I use them. I’m grateful for them. However, I’ve noticed this tendency in me to escape the present and I hadn’t thought that always being in skill, always being in a coping mechanism, could possibly get in the way of being present. The below IG post from Sarah B Coaching comparing coping strategies to regulating resources is relevant here:
As far as I understand, regulating strategies keep you in a place of health (aka within your window of tolerance). But what happens when life circumstances take you out of your window of tolerance? How do we not be dysregulated by dysregulating circumstances? I guess knowing we will be dysregulated because we’re human, but being able to feel the feelings / “just living it” without going into skill (as you’re able) is the path forward? These are questions I have…not solutions. Or maybe they are solutions. I think about the below, which are from the bible on regardless of circumstances being okay:
That last one gets me most: “is safe for you”. It is safe for you to rejoice in the Lord. Anything we do is our bodies attempting to return us to safety.
Where I’ll take this post from here is that, for me, the inability to connect with my feelings led/leads to a lot of discomfort inside (aka every emotion stuffed down and brewing inside of me in a giant emotional storm that made/makes me feel off and unpleasant). I would attempt to escape this discomfort by grasping for coping strategies. “Just living the feeling” requires me to be aware of the feeling I’m feeling in the first place, which is hard as I’m very practiced in shutting feelings down. I think about the intense loneliness and despair I’ve felt in seasons of life and fully feeling that would’ve crushed me…thank God for coping mechanisms and distraction. I’m very aware of my bodily sensations (thanks to practicing intuitive eating), but translating those bodily sensations into a feeling I’m aware of is still hard and something I’m working on.
One regulating strategy I’ve been bringing in (and this has been very hard for me because of things unique to me and I ended up not being able to do this without weekly therapy appointments because I found the whole thing so distressing and impossible), is to sit in a chair in our master bedroom and think of a situation and try to connect with what is the feeling I felt in that situation. Like I said, I find the whole thing very unpleasant, but it’s good to get awareness and space from the inner cacophony in my head so the pull to numb away from the confusion of life doesn’t take me some place unhealthy or harmful.
So what is the point of feeling your feelings? Why go through this?
I think the point of feeling your feelings is so you are aware of them so they don’t control you. So you can separate yourself from the cacophony inside your head. For awhile, instead of trying to feel my feelings I would attempt to empty my mind. The “empty your mind” calls from the meditation world translated for me into “push the thoughts away. Push them down and don’t think about them.” For me, there was/is already so much suppression of my thoughts and feeling (it is getting a lot better with therapy!). What I’ve actually needed is awareness and space to feel my feelings, knowing they aren’t necessarily true or right or moral. One barrier to feeling my feelings has also been that I want my thoughts and feelings to be reasonable and level-headed…they aren’t. The point, as far as I can tell, is to get them up and out so they don’t drive you, exhaust you, or leave you with a chronically unsettled feeling.