Embrace your emotions. Check in with your self. Listen to your desires. Value vulnerability. Express your authentic self. Feel your feelings.
These are all ideas and phrases that sound promising, but what do they actually mean? Why are they important? And most of all… how do we put them into practice?
Growing up, I really struggled with accepting the very natural human emotions that were a part of my existence. I did not want to cry, I did not want to make waves, and more than anything, I did not want to be a burden. This led to not only ignoring my needs, wants, and desires, but also to leaning on negative, self-harming behaviors as I desperately sought to numb my emotions.
I could dig deep and pull out all the history and reasons as to why I felt the need to numb, but to be honest, all of that has been processed (to death) with fantastic therapists years ago. Thankfully, I am no longer concerned with figuring out the WHYs of my traumas, vices, and quirks. I have explored these quite thoroughly, and have incorporated many tools to support me in my continued growth and evolution. These days, my focus is not on WHY I was so driven to disconnect, but rather on HOW to ensure that I don’t fall back into old behaviors and patterns that do not serve my sparkle.
Over the years, I have come to realize that my desire to numb was a direct response to not knowing how to deal with feelings that came up. I am naturally a highly sensitive person. It wasn’t until well into my adulthood that I was able to recognize my sensitivity as a strength. My empathic nature means that I pick up on the energies in spaces, people’s moods, experience, pain, discomfort, joy, and general vibes. Growing up I had no idea that this was a blessing or that I could train myself to use this sensitivity to support others. I viewed it as a weakness, a flaw. My body, mind, and spirit could pick up on the subtleties in life, but my untrained system was overwhelmed. This led me down the path of numbing for a very long time.
Numbing with food was my go-to vice, but I explored all sorts of options to disconnect me from feeling the energy of my surroundings and the emotions within. At my most disconnected, I relied on binge eating, chain-smoking, over-booked schedules, and huge doses of many prescribed psychiatric medications to ensure that I had a hearty layer of padding protecting me from the world and from my true self.
So, how does one go from an over-medicated, binge-eating, chain-smoking, people-pleasing mess to feeling feelings and embracing emotions? There is not one simple answer, other than practice. There is no finger snapping or nose twitching that magically transforms a person. While the path was winding, and at times, oh so messy, the simple answer is that I had to allow myself to feel, and practice honoring the emotions that were coming up. In fact, I still have to practice this, as my brain LOVES the chance to push me back towards old habits. Feeling your feelings sounds so simple, so easy, but the truth is that it takes work.
Allowing ourselves to get vulnerable and be real is hard. Our brains are always on high alert for threats to our survival, and vulnerability can feel like a direct danger at times. For many of us, these feelings of risk may drive us to habits that may not traditionally fall into the “healthy” category, but do act as coping mechanisms (I see you, Parliament Lights and Sour Patch Kids breakfast of champions). I would argue that this is another reminder of the idea that we are all doing the very best that we can. While these days I know that cigarettes and candy are not the best way to start my day, about ten years ago that was absolutely a part of my coping and survival.
Where do we begin?
Let’s talk about where one might begin on the journey to feel the feelings that are a natural part of this messy human experience. I like to begin just about everything I do with a few ideas in mind: observe, reflect, and experiment. As with all practices of untapping your sparkle, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to observe when, where, and how your brain leans on coping mechanisms that may fall into the numbing or vice category. Just observe. No judgment allowed. That is not how we roll here.
Observe yourself like you are studying a beautiful and mysterious creature. What do you notice? Are there times in the day when you require a snack/walk/break/smoke/gossip/internet moment? Are there people who trigger you to reach for a distraction? Just observe and become aware.
After you give yourself space to observe, take some time to reflect. I find it really helpful to journal what I notice and put the patterns down on paper. Once we begin to see patterns, we can dig deeper. For many, this is where the idea of WHY comes up. This is my formal request that you not get caught up in the why. The rabbit hole can go deep here. For example, after a usual Tuesday meeting with John I always crave a distraction. It must be because he reminds me of Joe, who broke my heart/who was a jerk/who hates successful women. How could I have been so naïve/why don’t I stand up for myself more/why is the world the way it is? Cue the blaming, self-sabotage, and pity party that will likely lead to more cravings for distraction. Be kind to yourself.
Rather than focus on the WHY, identify the FEELINGS you are having when you notice the patterns. This is your chance to experiment. Following the next Tuesday meeting, take an extra moment to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and check in with how you are feeling. Are you craving a distraction? Are you tired? Are you energized? Don’t worry about why, but take time to identify the FEELINGS. Perhaps you notice your usual craving for a distraction. That is a beautiful piece of data in this experiment! Keep going. Take a few more deep breaths! Ask yourself: What am I feeling, truly? Initially you might find that the answer is something like “I am feeling like I want to go eat chocolate.” This is a normal initial response. More data. Take another deep breath (or three!). Check in with your breath, your heart, your mind, and your body. Our bodies communicate all sorts of information. Perhaps you notice that your shoulders feel tense. Maybe you feel your jaw clenched. You notice that you open your email and your texts, but also open social media. Write down all of this information.
Tuesday: Following a meeting with John
- craved distraction
- craved chocolate
- tense shoulders
- clenched jaw
- shorter than usual attention span
Sometimes, all it takes is acknowledging all the data and seeing it lined up. Sometimes these feelings are clear and obvious right away. The more you practice checking in with yourself, the easier this process gets.
Sometimes, feeling your feelings is just about acknowledging that they are present. Sometimes, all it takes is identifying them to release their power. Sometimes feelings last longer than we want them to. Sometimes we struggle to identify them right away. All of this is okay. One thing that I know for sure is that feelings are never permanent. They are always changing, shifting, and evolving. Feelings are ebbing and flowing, just like us. This can be a very positive thing. Just as negative feelings can dissipate, positive feelings can grow stronger.
Putting into Practice
There are many practices that I use to move and process feelings, to support them in not getting stagnant or stuck. I meditate, journal, shower, color, doodle, dance, stretch, hike, and sometimes, when things feel really stuck, wash dishes. I know. I am weird. All of these actions can be accomplished solo, and give my brain a chance to process and think about the situation. This is my chance to check in and ask myself if I am telling myself any stories. This is my chance to ask for guidance from my spiritual resources. This is my chance to remind myself that this moment is now, not permanent, and that I can breathe and pause and flow to serve my needs in whatever way I choose. Sometimes, depending on the situation, I bring my feelings to another person. This could be a text or email to a friend, asking for a hug, crying it out, or requesting a venting session with a confidant. There are many different routes that one can take to support processing feelings.
When we take the time to observe, reflect, and experiment with noticing and processing our feelings, we are honoring that they exist. When we push them down and stuff them away, they in turn receive more energy. By allowing those feeling to get stuck inside us, they strengthen and fester, only to bust out with even more power because they were buried and ignored. When we witness and acknowledge that they are real and worthy of attention in the moment, we are taking steps to process and diffuse them in a healthy way.
This practice to check in and feel my feelings is an integral part of my sparkle. Please know that I have to remind myself to check in with my mind, body, and spirit every single day to make sure that my feelings are not accidentally getting stuffed down. I have to remind myself over and over and over again that it is absolutely normal and healthy to have a very wide range of emotions. These emotions are one of the greatest blessings in our human experience. Without the dark, there is no light. By embracing our true feelings and allowing them to be free, we are showing the world a bit more of our sparkle.
If you are seeking support to help you observe, reflect, and experiment with the process of feeling your feelings, let’s talk. There are so many tools available to sparkle, and I would love to explore them with you.