Please note; this is a preview from my book, currently being written. © Copyright.
I want to talk about feelings. I’m a psychotherapist and also a shamanic practitioner with decades of personal exploration, journeying and self development, so I deal and have dealt with a great deal regarding feelings over the years. So I’m going to explain a few things here about them, because this is a really important subject to talk about in self-development terms, and in terms of mental health, wellness and wellbeing.
There are several important points about feelings and once we can understand their very functions and purpose and the way that they are meant to work, we can all learn to simply accept them and in doing so, accept ourselves as a by-product.
Key understanding #1 – FEELINGS ARE MEANT TO BE TRANSIENT
Feelings are meant to be TRANSIENT. They are designed that way! They come, they pass through us and then they go. Feelings are designed to be transient, and it’s only through our learned behaviours and habits that we instead, hold on to them.
[***more to write here later about; Repression. Societal structural systemic pressure to repress. Becomes habitual. We are not born to repress, we learn to. Be a good girl, don’t be angry, don’t be loud. Be a big boy, don’t cry, be a man.]
Key understanding #2 – FEELINGS ARE NATURAL
Feelings are the mind/body/spirit system’s way of telling us something. Fear – we’re in danger. Pain – something is wrong with the body. Sad – something is wrong either internally (e.g. lonely) or externally (e.g. loss of something or someone). We are genetically, biologically, chemically and spiritually designed to have feelings. Feelings (or ‘feels’ as the younger generation calls them) are not, in and of themselves, bad. They are a message to listen to. Knowledge to explore. Actually at it’s simplest they are merely things to be felt and to move through. Some feelings feel glorious and wonderful such as love, joy, contentment, peace, playfulness. Some feelings feel awful and terrifying, brutal and unkind such as hate, anger, jealousy, pain, resentment or rage.
Key Understanding #3 – YOU ARE ENTITLED AND ALLOWED TO HAVE FEELINGS
You are a person in your own right. You deserve to be alive. You are just as entitled as every other person is to have feelings. YOU are ALLOWED to have feelings. Something in your own upbringing, or school, or work, or relationship may have led you to believe that your feelings are inappropriate, unwelcome, or undeserved. Baseline here, you are allowed to have feelings, your feelings are valid, you need to give yourself permission to have them, feel them, know you are entitled to them.
Key Understanding #4 (the big one) – FEELINGS ARE MEANT TO BE FELT
A feeling is meant to be FELT. Not suppressed or repressed, not swallowed, not wallowed in. Simply felt. Many clients over the years have heard me use my own expression, “don’t swallow, don’t wallow, just allow, allow, allow”. The more skilled you become at simply allowing your feelings without trying to supress or swallow them, without wallowing gloriously in them, simply observing and experiencing them; the easier they will become to manage, and learn from.
Let me repeat that one, it’s absolutely crucial for you to understand.
A feeling is meant to be FELT, so that the energy of it is SPENT, so that the feeling can PASS.
When we don’t allow our-self to feel a feeling, when we choke it down, swallow hard and move on, pretend it’s not there or busy ourselves with other things to distract from the feeling; guess what happens? It stays INSIDE us. It sits, unspent, unfelt, unwanted, WITHIN us. We carry it around, sometimes for many years, accumulating all those unspent feelings within us until we crack under the weight of it all. Imagine an empty rucksack you carry around invisibly, and each unspent or repressed feeling goes over your shoulder and into the bag like a stone, weighing heavier and heavier on your shoulders until it becomes unbearably heavy to carry. Or a pressure cooker inside you, where each and every repressed or unfelt feeling, adds to the pressure contained over years until it can no longer contain it all.
Many people reach an age where they feel like they’re no longer coping, no longer fitting in with societal or familial demands, no longer capable of simply rolling their sleeves up and just carrying on as they always have. The sheer weight of all those feelings becomes just too much to bear. People ‘break down’. Fall over either physically (and yes, there is much research* to show that holding onto hurt [trauma] can result in physical illness and ailments) mentally or emotionally (mental health/breakdown), or indeed a combination of all of the above.
This is a dreadful failing of our current societal expectations and demands. We expect people to just get on with life, function, do as they’re supposed to do. We don’t allow them to have feelings and then as a society we wonder why so many people reach a point where they simply fall over?
There is very good reason that exercises such as ‘primal yell’ and explosive physical activities help. They help to spend the unspent feelings that we are holding onto!
A much beloved person once said to me, many years ago that “your eyes are as deep as the well of unshed tears”, which although oddly lovely, was extremely potent and held deep reverberating meaning for me. Yes, I’d spent many years accumulating unspent feelings. I needed to learn how to cry again, I’d actually unlearned how and hadn’t cried for many years. I needed to befriend and allow my own feelings. I needed to believe that I had a right to have them. That I was WORTHY of being entitled to them. I needed to believe that I wouldn’t just crack, crumble or disappear into a ‘broken’ black hole if I actually gave myself permission to feel my hidden and buried feelings. I needed to literally excavate a lifetime of repression and suppression. Yes that was incredibly hard work, difficult and painful, and took time. However, the result was a far lighter, happier, more authentic and honest sense of self, and a better version of myself going forwards.
One last time to make sure it sticks.
Feelings are meant to be FELT, so that the energy of them is SPENT, so that they can PASS.
Key Understanding #5 – YOUR FEELINGS ARE NOT YOU
The issue of identifying with your feelings too closely! YOU are not your FEELINGS. Try to learn to know and exercise the difference. I am feeling or experiencing sadness, rather than I AM sad. Differentiate the feeling as a thing other than you, though you are the one feeling it. I am feeling very angry, rather than I AM angry. If we instead continue to internalise and identify with the feeling, then it can be really difficult to let go of, because essentially it can feel like we’re letting go of a part of our-self. We’re not, we’re a human being, experiencing feelings. Try to read that paragraph again. Try not to identify with the feelings, don’t internalise them as somehow being a ‘part of who I am’ – because then you don’t allow for the feeling to pass, you bring it inside you and make it a part of you. Therefore how can you let them go?
It is ONLY a feeling. No matter how big, how enormous, seemingly unbearable or overwhelming it is, no matter what circumstances real or imagined, horrific or awful created the feeling; it is still a feeling. Valid to feel, legitimate to have so ALLOW it, so that you can spend the energy of it, so that it can pass. The bigger or more complex or difficult the feeling, yes perhaps it will take longer to spend the energy of those weighty emotions, so it will take longer to truly pass (e.g. grief), but it is still a feeling. It is not YOU. Trust yourself, give yourself permission to feel the feeling, it’s nobody else’s business but your own. You don’t have to direct it either to another person or at yourself; it’s your feeling, so simply observe it, allow it… and thus allow it to pass, once properly spent.
Key Understanding #6 – THE PRESSURE COOKER LID THAT CRACKS
If you hold inside your many unspent feelings, as mostly we do, then they will find their way out inconveniently, inappropriately, when you least expect it and likely when it can do most harm! People written off as having ‘anger issues’ are almost without exception, simply carrying a lifetime of anger that they were not allowed or able to express or hadn’t allowed themselves to feel about something unrelated from childhood even, so those unexpressed/un-felt/unspent feelings are there, close to the surface, ready to explode or implode.
You may well believe you have a good grasp of keeping the pressure cooker lid on right now; but I assure you that eventually, that lid will crack, and all the steam will find its own way out. So roll up your sleeves, give yourself permission to feel your own feelings, own them, get to know them, and figure out how to spend the energy of them safely.
FOOTNOTE ON ABLISM: I am aware of the ableist nature of this dialogue. For some among us, there is neither the time nor space to ‘indulge’ in this kind of reparative, restorative work on ourselves. For some the limitations may be of social class and/or poverty, not having ‘a room of one’s own’ (Virginia Woolf) or any privacy at all, perhaps not even a roof over your head. For others there are physical limitations, knowing that on bad health or low-spoon (read up on spoon theory) days the price of allowing a bucket load of feelings out is actually going to be way too high to pay in terms of pain and fatigue. I can only apologise for and empathise with (and validate the truth of) the dreadful state of our society in which such lives are deeply enmired in suffering to begin with. Perhaps you are actually unable to get out of bed today or to leave a room with other people. Perhaps you are unable to find privacy in the out of doors because you’re homeless in a city, or you need to focus on surviving by merely getting out of freezing rain or it’s frankly more important to find something to eat. I wanted to note this, not to ignore it. It is vitally important to realise and recognise where ableism brings the assumption that we’re all starting from the same place. We are often and most decidedly not.
(c) DK Green 31/03/2021 – do not use or quote without permission from the author. You may reference this piece by crediting the author and linking to this website.