Written by Elisa Caro: ISTA Faculty Apprentice & Recommended Practitioner
“If I allow myself to feel I might lose control, I can’t do that”
“I can’t make decision when I feel”
“Who am I to feel this? After all my life is pretty good, I shouldn’t be feeling it”
“Emotions never lead me to good choices”
“I don’t know how I am feeling”
Does this sound like you?
It definitely sounded like me a few years ago, when I shut down after a painful breakup and I decided to not cry anymore. AT ALL. Sadness became unsafe, too uncomfortable to feel.
I literally became so much more mechanical and logical, and couldn’t feel fully for quite a while. Actually, I went and did a Masters degree in Engineering, so I guess I really took it there. But that’s another story.
My head was in control of my heart.
Unfortunately, when I disconnected from my emotions, I started missing essential information.
We are sold this idea that ignoring our emotions and “being rational” is the best way to navigate life. But emotions are there for a reason. They help us get in touch with what we need and value. They are literally a portal back to our deeper nature.
If you have ever been overwhelmed with unpleasant emotion, like I was all those years ago, maybe you decided that emotions were not helpful and that you would better off if you could control them / avoid them / think your way out of them.
Maybe you suppressed them with substances, or distracted yourself, or just stayed busy – all so you didn’t have to feel them.
First of all, I want to say that it’s ok. It’s very normal to relate to emotions in this way.
I see it ALL THE TIME in my clients, and as I said there have even been times in my life when I have done this.
I mean, let’s face it – most of us just aren’t taught how to relate to emotions in a mature, adaptive way.
Think about how your parents relate to their own vulnerable emotions.
Do they accept them as part of being human? Do they listen to them so they can hear the wisdom contained within them?
And when you were feeling vulnerable as a kid – like, maybe you came home sad because the kids were mean to you on the bus, or you failed a spelling test – how did they tend to respond to your emotional upset? Did they hug you and tell you it’s normal to feel sand and that they also feel this way sometimes and that you will be ok? Or did they ignore you / fail to notice / try to distract you / react to you / tell you to get over it?
Can you see how the way they related to your vulnerability has shaped the way you relate to your own?
I wish all our parents could teach us how to be with our emotions in healthy ways. I wish they taught us this in school! In KINDERGARTEN!!
The good news is that it is never to late to learn how to relate to our emotions in a healthy way.
Even though it can be hard to do in practice, the formula for being with emotions in an adaptive, mature way is simple. We just need to allow ourselves to feel them fully. Not think about them, but have an embodied experience of them.
Thinking and speaking about them is not enough. We need to FEEL them.
How can we do this?
Well, here is a simple exercise helped me hugely to get back in touch with them.
Multiple times during the day I would stop, pause, and ask myself:
“What am I feeling right now? And how do these emotion(s) feel in my body?”
I literally set an alarm on my phone, turned off the alarm sound, and changed the default text from “Alarm” to “What am I feeling? What does it feel like in my body?”
Try this simple exercise for the next 10 days. You will notice the difference!