The Only Way Out Is Through-A Guide to Feeling Your Feelings
“Whoa, that’s a super deep title,” you may be thinking. I can’t say you’re wrong, but hey, I told y’all I was hear to get real about the things that matter.
Recently I’ve experienced some trying events in my life that almost seem surreal; I won’t go into detail, but the bottom line is it’s been a rough couple of weeks and I’m still trying to navigate my feelings with what’s been happening around me.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the absolute worst at dealing with my emotions; rather than accept them, I continually choose to repress them and numb myself to them in hopes that they’ll just magically disappear (news flash: they don’t). I know, it’s a personal problem but I’m sure some of you can relate.
Sometimes you hear a piece of news that is so incredibly hard to handle that you feel nothing at all: that’s okay. Sometimes it takes days or weeks to process that these things could ever be a reality and you go cold for a period of time: that’s also okay. And sometimes you may even feel guilty for feeling something different than you think you should: IT’S OKAY.
We can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we choose to react to those feelings. This past Sunday I took a Kundalini yoga workshop surrounding emotions and emotional connection that encircled that philosophy. It amazes me how things seem to come at the perfect time, as this was exactly what I had been looking for to help process what the heck was going on.
The basic idea of the workshop was this: thoughts give rise to feelings, which turn into emotions. Once we have the emotion, we are able to figure out what we want to do with it, which can either help or hurt us significantly depending on whether we allow the emotion to rule us or not. We can’t stop the feeling from becoming an emotion, but we can prevent it from having a harmful outcome by actually feeling through it on a visceral level. We can also stop the thought from becoming a feeling, but sometimes that intervention isn’t accessible to us.
I feel as if the saying, “feel your feelings” is tossed around without much meaning or understanding behind it. Sure, we can say we’re feeling our feelings when really we’re just numbing them with Netflix and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Let’s be honest: feeling our emotions is freaking scary because we are so conditioned to repress them and act like everything is a-okay. I challenge you to take a step back, question whether that way of handling things is truly working in your life, and make a decision to either keep things the same or change them.
The day after the workshop, I started thinking about this thing I had been dealing with. Given that it was something almost too difficult for me to process, I ended up stuck, not knowing how to deal with it and feeling less than I thought I should have. I started to feel guilty for the way I reacted and my mental process was a little something like, “you should feel more, I mean look at what’s happening! How are you okay when all of this is going on and you should be doing more and blah blah blah,” until those thoughts gave rise to a feeling. I decided to really feel through it rather than allowing the thoughts to control me. I felt a pit in my stomach and a tightness in my throat; I focused on those feelings and gave all of my attention to them. I was able to label that emotion in me: guilt. After about a minute or less of being in that experience, I felt normal again. I know, it sounds absolutely insane.
My yoga teacher told us that feelings never last more than 90 seconds when we are truly feeling them; she was right. I put all of my attention on this feeling and within a minute, it was gone and I had processed it. Emotions only become problematic when we attach stories to them, which I had been doing before the feeling set in. The fact of the matter is this: we choose how we get to see the world and every moment, we are given an opportunity to choose again. We can either let our stories win, which is often accompanied by fear and unhappiness, or we can do the work to be better at understanding ourselves.
Again, we can’t control what we feel, but we can control what we do about it. The only way out of a difficult or uncomfortable situation is through it; if we push it down and ignore it hoping it will pass through, it will only come back stronger. Become aware of yourself and really try to understand which emotions are the hardest for you to deal with; it may be sadness, anger, happiness, guilt, pride, or anything else. Then, become aware of your thought processes and start to recognize patterns. Which thoughts give rise to which emotions? How quick is this process? Are you able to intervene before the thought becomes a feeling?
Then, when the feeling becomes an emotion, really feel it. Notice where it is in your body and how it manifests. It may be a tightness in your throat, a heaviness in your heart, or a pain in your stomach. Focus your attention there and viscerally experience that emotion in your body. After a very short period of time, it will simply dissipate. That’s all you have to do. I’m serious, it’s that simple.
I’m not saying this is easy or that it will come naturally, but it is so important if we want to change how we relate to our internal selves as well as others. I’ve learned in my experiences that changing habits that are so deeply ingrained in us takes time, but the work put in is so worth it in the long run. I challenge you to become aware of how you process your own difficult feelings and begin to make changes so they don’t hold you back all the dang time; I’m working on it too!