With easy access, instant gratification, and the abundance of things in the world today, it is easy to fall into a pattern of hastening to remove any discomfort that befalls us. Often times, that might mean using food to alleviate emotional distress, or medications to relieve physical pain, exercise to lessen mental anguish, or even illegal drugs to pacify any of these common discomforts.
Most of the time, being uncomfortable is so . . . well . . . uncomfortable that we just can’t stand it and we’re willing to do anything to get it to stop.
While some of these coping mechanisms are healthy, some are not.
And one of the ways we try to get uncomfortable feelings or emotional distress to stop is by suppressing our feelings, distracting ourselves, or avoiding the emotions so we can’t feel them anymore.
In the online docuseries titled Depression, Anxiety, and Dementia Secrets, Dr. John Gray said, “We are so shut down as a society. . . . [E]motions are available to us but if they want to come up–and we push them down because of overeating, or drugs, we push them down and we go into denial of the emotions–then we can [get] stuck in depression.”
Often times, we suppress an uncomfortable emotion because we don’t want to feel it in the moment. It’s too painful, or even too big. But the repercussions of suppressing it is even greater than the pain of feeling it in the moment. As Dr. Gray said, depression can be an outcome from suppressing uncomfortable emotions.
Another side-effect of suppressing emotions is that other emotions can come to mask the deeper ones and we live in the secondary emotion indefinitely (or until we face the primary one). Dr. Gray continues:
“Let’s say you’re angry. Some people spend their whole life being angry because they’re not letting themselves feel the disappointment of what didn’t happen–the sadness, the loss, the cry. They’re just angry. Well they’ll just stay angry forever until somebody helps them find the vulnerable part that’s sad or the part of them that’s deeper that’s afraid and scared [that] ‘I’ll never be loved’ or ‘I’ll never be happy again.'”
But did you know that uncomfortable emotions will actually leave on their own if you acknowledge them and let them do their job?
It’s true. I have witnessed it time and time again in my life. Once I let my negative emotion do its job, it leaves, and I feel sooooo much better!
So then, what is an emotion’s job?
Well, emotions are messengers—and their job is to tell you something specific that you need to do in the situation that you are in.
That means: Your very own emotion’s job is to reveal to you unhealthy beliefs that you maintain subconsciously and live by, and when you feel your emotion, name it, discern its message, and act on it, you get to break down those faulty belief structures and create better, healthy, and true ones.
Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you see a picture of a child-hood friend that you’re no longer in touch with. Seeing this picture sparks some sadness inside of you. (Or maybe fear or anger–but for now, we’ll say sadness.) This emotion of sadness has come to your aid, bringing you a message of something you need to do.
Your next step is to identify what your action item is, and then do it. And once you’ve done that, your sadness will leave you.
Seems simple. And it is. But it does take some work and practice.
PROBLEM: How do I move from the discomfort of an uncomfortable emotion into a state of peace?
All you have to do is discern your emotion’s message and act on it. But before you can take action on your emotion’s message, and before you can identify the message, and even before you can name your emotion, you first have to feel it.
The very first step in doing emotion work is to allow yourself to feel. Don’t worry! It won’t kill you to actually feel that discomfort! And good news—that uncomfortable feeling won’t last forever! (unless you don’t recognize it’s message)
Feeling your feelings doesn’t allow them to take control of your life. It actually puts the control back in your hands.
If you have a hard time feeling your feelings, take some time to explore why. Are you afraid it will be too painful? That you won’t be able to bear it? Are you afraid it will never go away?
I’m not going to lie—feeling the feelings might not be the most pleasant experience you’ve ever had. And the discomfort might even intensify as you acknowledge them and turn into them emotions instead of away. Uncomfortable feelings feel terrible. They feel rotten and lonely and sometimes out of control.
But that’s because THEY ARE TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION to tell you something you need to do. They are trying to move you to take action. How else can they get you to do something without making it so uncomfortable that you can’t stand it and have to move?!?
So how do you actually “Feel the Feelings” without wallowing in them?
The answer is to take your awareness to your body. Your body has an amazing way of bringing your attention to your emotions. Perhaps it’s the sweaty palms that makes your brain go “Wait a minute! I’m feeling nervous right now!” Or the heat that rises up your neck and into your cheeks when you finally notice, “Wow, I am pretty upset about that right now.” Maybe it’s the tightness in your shoulders or the clenching in your stomach. Everyone feels their emotions differently.
Whatever it is, your body is trying to let you know that you have an emotion present that you can work through–and that you need to work through to help you move out of a detrimental inner-environment and into a more beneficial one.
But the first step is to feel the feelings.
I recently attended an evening with Jody Moore, a life coach, who described how to feel your feelings. She had some great words—which she penned on her blog post titled: “Are You Numbing Yourself to Happiness?” In Jody’s article, she explains that when we numb our negative emotions, we also numb our positive ones.
But the part I love the most is how she encourages us to become more aware of what our feelings feel like in our body. She says:
“Explore it by describing what it feels like physically.”
The example she gives is of fear. Here is her description of what it could feel like as she talks to it directly.
“You make my head feel hot and my palms sweat. I also feel you in my stomach. You make me queasy and not hungry. My mouth is dry when you’re here. You are dark blue and hot and you move fast through me.”
You can do this! You can take a moment to describe–or even talk to!–your emotion as you bring your awareness to what it makes your body feel.
This is the first step in doing healthy emotion work—in recognizing the messages your emotions bring so that your uncomfortable feelings can leave you in peace.
SOLUTION: Explore the way your body responds when you have an uncomfortable emotion arising.
Don’t be afraid to feel the feelings. They are a gift to you, to help you maneuver through life, to protect you and help you progress and improve, to help you let go of the past and any unhealthy beliefs you picked up along the way. They reveal to you your inner-environment to help you break down flawed and unhealthy structures to build healthy ones. Emotions are incredible!
Feel them! Start your emotion work now. You can do it!