The brilliance of feeling your feels (especially when you don’t feel like it)
Brilliance (intellectual-technical-artistic-social-athletic-spiritual) has a shadow side: It makes us more capable of deceiving ourselves and others.
The most common form of self-deception I’ve witnessed in clients is emotional disconnection or denial. An unwillingness to be with a painful feeling — or identifying so strongly with it they lose perspective that it is information and ultimately not “them” or reflective of larger truths.
The bad news first: You can run but you can’t hide from emotional boogeymen. If you don’t process them responsibly they’re like old injuries, creating psychological compensations that make you less effective and resilient.
The good news? The more up close and personal you’re willing to get with your pain points, the more effective, resilient and compassionate you get. You skin your emotional knee, you clean and protect the wound. You break your emotional arm, you get it casted. You tend to emotional (or physical) pain when it happens so it can heal right and relatively quickly.
Another bright spot is that feeling the pain allows a fuller range of positive feelings too. Both sides of this polarity make you vulnerable. They also make life more vibrant and rich.
High performers too often run on scripts like “no pain no gain,” “suck it up,” or “I don’t have time for this.”
We’re not fragile — and we’re not invincible, either. Denial and avoidance create debts on your emotional balance sheet. Admitting pains supports you to deal with them, as well as empathizing with others in a healthy and equitable way.
The solution is simple if at times elusive: Feel the damn thing. Tend to it as would a strong, caring mother—a lioness with her cub. Raw emotion moves quickly, it’s how we deal or don’t deal with it and our stories that keep it stuck and give it staying power.
Up for the challenge? Here are a few techniques. In lieu of detailed instructions I’ll give basics with links for you to combine or customize.
- Identify the emotion and dramatize it. Regena Thomashauer has a method for this she calls swamping. Her work is specifically targeted at women, and this practice can work for men and gender non binaries too.
- Act out the feeling through a Gestalt psychology practice known as the empty chair technique or aspecting. Basically you embody and express the part of you that is most triggered — from your thoughts to your posture to your vocal tone etc. You sit in a chair and literally speak to the other party involved or the part of you that’s in conflict (e.g. the part of you that’s resisting).
- Talk to a friend or partner who can be empathetic and objective. Choose someone who you feel comfortable with to share freely, who will a) accept what you say without judgment and b) reflect back to you what you’re feeling, respecting your autonomy and your space. Make a clear request as to what kind of support you want (versus soothing or advice). Assuming you’re able to fully feel and express the emotion you can also transform it through variations on cognitive-behavioral techniques as described here.
- Take quiet, relaxed time for yourself to do a body scan. Start with thoughts or beliefs on the topic, moving to physical sensations or activation throughout the body. Depending on how in tune you are with your body, you may want to a peek at Hoffman Institute’s feelings and sensations list to heighten your sensitivity to a broader and subtler range of experiences.
Disclaimer on facing your feels: If you think they could be triggering to the point of overwhelm (often indicated by numbness, tension, high agitation/desire to move or strike something, or disturbing flashbacks), I recommend consulting a trauma therapist or healer. This doesn’t make you “weak” or “needy,” it just means you’re a human who knows her/his limitations and in this particular area at this particular time you could use stronger support.
Be strong. Be sensitive.
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