The brilliance of feeling your feels (especially when you don’t feel like it)

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

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.

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.

Be smart.

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Casey Onder, PhD

Psychologist, success coach, believer in solid behavioral science and the power of tuning in.