Embracing your feelings and treating them with loving kindness is the first step on the journey toward psychological and spiritual wholeness. When you use your feelings effectively, they work like a compass, directing you where you need to go. You tap into your navigation system and this allows you to manage your life. Yet, for some of us, that compass appears short-circuited. The needle feels stuck in one direction even though you know you need to head in another. For others, the needle seems out-of-order, unable to pick up any polar energy that could point you to a place other than where you currently are. When your directional process isn’t working, it feels frustrating and overwhelming.
The main reason we become disconnected from our feelings is because of fear. Some people have been trained to shut their feelings down because they’ve been hurt or traumatized in childhood. They associate love and connection with pain. Others may have been mocked and demeaned – this particularly happens with boys – because they expressed their feelings and were told they were weak. We can dissociate from our feelings for less traumatic reasons, too. When we spend much of our lives attempting to please others, we’re not self-focused enough to know our own needs. Another way we sever our connection to true feelings is when we work really hard to cultivate an image and deny our authenticity. Regardless of how it happened, if we’re cut off from our feelings, we’ve cut ourselves off from our humanity. This is how anxiety and depression start.
In his book, How to Be an Adult, David Richo calls this state of disconnection neurotic fear. Neuroses is a psychological term that goes back to Freud. It’s an overarching description that basically means uncertainty in our sense of Self. Richo states that this neurotic fear is an indicator that we have not maturely integrated all aspects of who we are. “Fear is the opposite of love,” he writes, “because it is totally conditional. It keeps us out of the water; it excludes. Love is all-inclusive. To say that love casts out fear is to say that unconditional and conscious integration has triumphed over ignorance and inhibition.”
The basis of addiction and other destructive behavior comes from a fear of feelings. People who have suffered trauma have a hard time connecting love with peace. They misconstrue the ferocity of their experiences for feelings. They become numb on one hand, yet seeking intensity through drugs, sex, dangerous experiences, abusive relationships on the other hand. Intensity is a high. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s not feeling.
Feelings are so much more. They’re deeper, yet more subtle. They’re like colors. They’re the energy of warmth, pulsation, friction and calm. We must allow ourselves the experience all of these colors and energies in order to be fully alive and integrated with Self. If we deny ourselves the so-called uncomfortable sensations of sadness, loss or anger, we’re also leaving out happiness, joy, and peace. Feelings are a package deal.
It’s important to begin a dialogue with our feelings. Listening deeply and embracing our own truth is the most freeing experience we can have. Within the complexity of our feelings is great splendor. It’s the Yellow Brick Road, the Hero’s Journey of life. We may not know exactly where we’re going, but we need to trust that the journey will get us there if we just put one foot in front of the other. Journaling, the use of art, talking it out or just sitting and allowing the sensation of the feeling to run through us are several ways to process these feelings. Combining all of these techniques to reconnect are the best ways. Some people are more tactile and need to process physically (dance, exercise, walks in the woods). Some need to use image (finger painting or other creative endeavors), some need to verbalize (talking it out with friends or therapists) and some need to understand what they are feeling on an intuitive level before they can share (journaling, reading self-help books or art).
Like energy, feelings need to move. Even to sit in stillness and allow the sensation of the feeling to work through our bodies and to determine where we feel this sensation, is movement. Some fear if they do this they’ll explode. That’s not the case. You can only “explode” when pressure is applied. And when we stuff feelings down into a proverbial sack by ignoring them, we’re creating pressure for ourselves that will generate depression or anxiety. Finding the best way for you to flow, for you to identify and feel the sensations of what you’re feeling, will help you reintegrate and reclaim the sacredness that is your Self. ~ Cheryl Lewallen, M.Ed, LPC
Artwork by Deborah Koff-Chapin