Lately I’ve noticed a lack of elbow room for feelings. No open spaces left for a feeling to show up. For if one appears, quick as a flash there’s a fuss, and a shunning. ‘So and so has it much worse’, my mind tells me. Along with your lips. “You could have so much more to worry about”. “Grow up”, I say to myself. Round and round my thoughts and your words chase the feelings that arrive, until they find a deep hole in which to dive underground. And before I know it, they are gone.
One unexpected day, arrives on scene the drive to stuff my face with food. The fixation to pull at my hair. The need to buy too much, cook too much, Facebook too much, drive too fast, rage at my kids. And I wonder, suddenly after months of not needing my horrid coping behaviors, why they have surfaced again. I wonder why I’m blowing up in situations that normally wouldn’t anger me. I act in ways that aren’t ‘me’. And I forget to connect the dots back to the feeling that tried to join the conversation of my life. I neglected to notice that I would not have it! I forget I would not care or listen or lovingly respond to the feelings that God put in my body to help me cope with the realities of life. And so I viciously attempt to stamp out the annoying coping habit I don’t want, and the embarrassing reaction has been caused by denying an inborn healthy coping mechanism called my feelings.
Feelings help me know if I’m catching fire. If I’m freezing solid. They help me know if blood is being cut off from a limb. Feelings let me know dust has made it’s way onto my eye. Reminds me when I need sleep. If my teeth need flossed. Feelings also allow me to notice when I’m being disrespected. When I’ve said ‘yes’ too many times. When I’m being used.
Feelings are not popular. The catch-phrase ‘too sensitive’ exists because feeling a thing is deemed as a character flaw. Allowing myself to notice a feeling and say out loud that I feel sad, fearful, anxious is to agree to being branded as ‘moody, thin skinned, touchy, immature’, you get the idea.
Life hands us a two edged sward, really. Expects us not to feel, and also expects us not to react. Only problem, when I don’t notice my feelings and respectfully address the red flags that feelings wave in my face, when I shove underground these warning signals, the body takes over. No longer my frontal lobe in charge, physical reactivity takes the place of choices. And who wants that? I can either decide to take charge of me, or let my reflexive, my reactive self take the place of my choices.
Not only are reactions caused by ignoring my feelings, at times so are my conditions. Conditions such as depression and anxiety. Clients often sign up for treatment to ‘fix’ depression or anxiety. They don’t realize that it’s an end-stage condition. Much like diabetes is deemed the problem rather than an end stage condition that points to the myriad of problems ignored before diabetes came into full bloom. The goal is to address little things that cause the end stage. And one of the simplest fixes is to stop ignoring and being ashamed of feelings. Treat feelings for what they are. Mighty helpers. They tell us the truth about a situation. And as we give attention to them and address them, we become stronger.
I can hear the ‘You are what you think’ critics now. What about all those feelings that are not accurate? First rule of thumb. Feelings are not right or wrong. There are only wrong actions for dealing with that feeling. A feeling is neutral. Decisions about that feeling and the actions taken are not. Many actions (responses) way over the top are triggers to shame about that feeling. Once there is no shame for a feeling, it can be rightly and empathetically dealt with. And the adult me can make the decision for how to respond. As long as there is shame, the responder is functioning in a fight, flight or freeze state.
Make way, I say, for feelings. They are the first responders to a healthier me.