“Feelings won’t kill you. Running away from them will.” Unknown
It wasn’t until I attended a “Heal Your Inner Child” workshop that I got a hint about how much energy and time I spent trying to escape my emotions. I was on the run and looking over my shoulder at something I feared may catch up to me. I just couldn’t identify the “something.”
The first day of the workshop, we told what we hoped to gain from our week together. Five out of the 13 attendees, all counselors except me, said, “I want to feel my feelings.”
I felt sorry for them that they weren’t already in touch with their emotions. I was curious why and how they’d gotten disconnected especially in their line of work. I wondered why my counselor brought me along.
By the end of the week, I could hardly eat or swallow because of the commotion going on inside me. I got scared because I wasn’t certain what was happening, but I was pretty sure I couldn’t undo it. As it turns out, the upheaval was my emotions, the ones I thought I’d been feeling all along.
I wish I could tell you how easy it was to feelmy feelings, dealwith them, and healfrom the ones that hurt. However, that was 1994, and still sometimes I’m a wreck when I cry in front of people, when I confess I’m feeling anything besides fine, and when I admit I let someone hurt my feelings.
So, I write about emotions. A lot, but not typically for public consumption. Other than my manuscript, I limit the topic to my journal and an occasional blog post.
First, I don’t want to use up original content and have nothing new to say in my book. I want to surprise y’all with a topic you don’t even want to hear about. After all, who wants to read about feeling bad, which is part of the deal with emotions?
Second, I’m afraid you can’t relate. You’ll think the same thoughts I did during the first day of the workshop. You’re convinced like I was that you’re already feeling your feelings, so what in the world is wrong with me that I struggle to feel?
Third, I don’t think anyone wants to hear about emotions. No one’s impressed that it’s the topic I’m called to write. From what I can tell, most of us prefer to ignore how we feel in hopes our emotions will go away. We keep trying to master distraction and denial even though they haven’t worked so far.
Since the workshop, I’ve figured out that whether we want to talk about emotions or not and whether we want to read about emotions or not and whether to want to feel our emotions or not, we need to.
I’ve observed us spend too much, buy too much stuff, and eat too much. Talk too much and analyze too much. Drink and drug too much, which means going to doctors too much for more drugs. Sleep too much and stay up too late. Exercise too much. Flirt too much. Watch too much TV. Scroll social media too much. We even walk too much. A fellow at my gym boasted an average of 65,000 steps daily. That’s more than eight hours of walking a day.
We overdo our living in exchange for deadening our emotions. It’s a tradeoff that’s killing us.
I think a lot of us relate to trying not to feel even if we won’t talk about it out loud. I skimmed a pile of old People magazines and in 30 minutes found three articles where people admitted to deadening their feelings.
Rapper Jay-Z said he was unfaithful to wife Beyonce because he “shut down emotionally.”
David Cassidy, my teen crush from The Partridge Family, announced two months before his death that he didn’t have dementia after all. Instead, he suffered from liver disease. He said, “The fact is that I lied about my drinking … I did [this] to myself – to cover up the sadness and the emptiness.”
One of the survivors from Jonestown, Tracy Parks, was a child when she escaped just hours before Jim Jones led followers in a mass suicide. Tracy said she used alcohol in her 20s “to keep me from feeling.”
We’re careful who is privy to our emotions, which emotions we show, and how we hide the rest. Vulnerability is not our thing, which isn’t always a bad thing. Discretion can be wise. However, too often we’ve chosen unwisely to try to handle our emotions alone or not at all, and to the point that we don’t trust anyone with them, not even ourselves.
We avoid feeling our feelings because doing so “feels” uncomfortable, out of our control, and complicated. “It’s complicated” is what we tag on Facebook when we’re talking about a hard-to-deal-with relationship. It’s the same with hard-to-deal-with emotions.
Chuck Noland, Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away, wasn’t able to cast away his emotions even though he was alone for years with only a volleyball he named Wilson. Since we often blame others for our emotional turmoil, you’d think Chuck could have gotten a hold on his when no one else was around.
Instead, Tom Hanks’ character wrote on a rock, “Chuck Noland was here 1500 days. Escaped to sea. Tell Kelly Frears, Memphis, TN, I love her.”
Chuck couldn’t escape his emotions, not even on a desert island.
The truth is, we’d do ourselves a favor to stop running this very moment. I took a deep breath when I reread the former sentence. It’d do us good to sit still and recognize our emotions are right here, right now. We never escape them or kill them off or push them so far down that they won’t show up again. We can’t pile enough food on top or drink enough wine or buy enough stuff to not feel our feelings.
Like 12 step programs tell us, “Wherever we go, there we are.” This is true of our emotions too. We can’t avoid them. The question is not if we will deal with emotions, but how we’ll deal with them.
My manuscript is about getting in touch and dealing with our feelings, and healing from the uncomfortable, difficult, and painful ones.
During my research, I stumbled onto this quote by author Christine Carter. She said, “Take action: What feeling have you been distracting yourself from lately? Take 90 seconds right now to just feel it.”
I forced myself to push back from my laptop, close my eyes, and feel overwhelmed since overwhelm is the emotion I often avoid. Strangely enough, I felt relieved to let it catch up with me although that was the longest minute and a half ever.
What about you? Were you able to sit still and feel the emotion for 90 seconds? I’d love to hear from you about feeling our feelings.
In This Together,
On the side: Throughout my writing about feeling our feelings, I use “emotions” and “feelings” interchangeably.