When it comes to feeling our feelings, it seems that we'll do just about anything to stay away from them. And I get it, really, I've been there, too.
The thought of making room to acknowledge the deep well of pain, grief, anger, or [insert any other emotion typically thought of as negative here], is anxiety producing. And I'm not saying that tongue-in-cheek.
That really is where anxiety is created. (I'll go into more detail about that in another post.)
Our emotions act as an alert system within our bodies. They signal moments that we need to pay attention to, and they often inform us of whether to move toward or away from what is happening in our environment. The catch is that we live in a cultural environment that, let's just say, doesn't fully embrace emotional expression.
Actually, I'll just say it more plainly. We are often encouraged to not express what we're feeling. We risk being placed into stereotypes or given labels if we're brave enough to be vulnerable. You know the stereotypes before I even list them, don't you?
"Women are more emotional than men." "The overly emotional woman." "She's crazy." "Men who cry are weak." "He's too sensitive, he needs to grow some balls." "What a p**sy."
Yes. I went there. Because if I've heard it, you have, too.
And I'll go a step farther to say: It's. All. Bullshit. Plain and simple.
From an early age, and I mean very early, we're taught to discount our internal experience. Comments like:
"You don't need to cry."
"There's no reason to be upset over that."
"I'm sure you're blowing this out of proportion."
tell us that what we are experiencing isn't real, and more importantly they tell us that the person we are coming to can't handle our negative emotion. Let me say that again.
When we discount someone else's experience, we are telling them that we can't handle their negative emotion. When our experience is not validated, we take in the message, "They can't handle my emotion," and rather than find someone who can (risking the possibility of rejection again), we shut a part of ourselves down.
As a child, these are really confusing messages. The take away here for you is that we don't stop trusting others, we stop trusting ourselves. Does that resonate with any part of your own experience?
If this happens only occasionally, we're pretty resilient, and we'll recover relatively easily. Especially if we have people who are regularly encouraging our emotional expression.
But, if this -or worse- is a regular occurrence, we become disconnected from our internal experience. My clients often experience this disconnection in the inability to even name the emotion they're experiencing. That's right. The internal confusion between ourselves and others leads down the path of disconnection from ourselves and our experience.
We use defenses to combat what we feel inside with what we think we "should be feeling" based off of the reactions we've gotten from others in the past. So, we get small. We stay quiet. And we cope.
We cope by ruminating and overthinking. Everything.
We cope by kicking the dog when we're angry at our boss.
We cope by telling jokes to mask our own sadness.
We cope by drinking regularly so we can escape the internal chaos we feel.
Those are just a few examples, but really, our brains and bodies are pretty clever. They'll come up with just about anything to "survive," because being rejected by others is a threat to human survival, (back when we were hunters and gatherers, being left out of the group meant that we would inevitably die, and that's still hard-wired into our system) so we adapt to fit the mold of what others showed us was tolerable and acceptable for them. And we're not better because of it.
The continual shutting down of ourselves and our feelings has served to bolster a crisis of monumental proportions when it comes to mental health. I don't have to tell you that, though. If you watch the news, you see it.
That's why I'm here to tell you: The only way out, is through.
You know the children's camp song, "We're Going on a Bear Hunt"? The lyrics, as the bear-hunter comes upon each obstacle are something like,
Can't go over it,
Can't go under it,
Can't go around it,
We've got to go through it...
And it's true for us, too. Except the "bear" we're hunting turns out to be a part of ourselves that we lost. And the obstacles that we face are the emotions we experience as we journey to find that part of ourselves that seems so far away. And really, we do try to go over, under, and around each obstacle by unhealthy coping (^^ see above examples). The thing is, that only works for a moment and we end up stuck, right where we started. Every. Damn. Time.
So, it's true. We have to go through it. The only way out is through.
Here's the thing. You don't have to do this alone. In fact, you really can't completely heal on your own. We are hurt in relationship, and we are also healed in relationship.
If you're tired of feeling like you are disconnected from yourself, or like you're always accommodating others, I can help. Let's start working towards the life of authenticity you want. We'll do it together. Call for your free consultation today.
Think about the ways you "cope." What defenses are you using? Take 5-10 minutes to write about the ways you cope, what that might be covering up, and when you think that started.
There are no right or wrong answers. Try your best not to filter your responses- even if they seem to not make sense right now.
As always, I would love to hear how this information has impacted you, what you learned about yourself, and what you'd like to know more about. Don't hesitate to email me. I read every response.