I am an advocate for re-framing negative thinking, use of positive affirmations, self-compassion and all the wonderful strategies to eliminate the negative and bring in the positive. I see SO MANY positive memes out there on social media encouraging us to be grateful, thankful and happy. In many ways this is a great reminder to put life into perspective and challenge that negative demon inside our brains.
The problem is that sometimes people take this to mean that they “shouldn’t be sad” or angry, disappointed, anxious, etc… So what do you do when you believe that you shouldn’t feel a certain way? Stuff the feeling and replace it with the recommended feelings – happiness, gratitude, joy, love, etc. It is healthy to NOT become STUCK in negative emotions, but what happens when we don’t allow ourselves to feel them… or even worse, feel guilt or shame about feeling them!?!
The outcome of stuffed feelings can look different on different people and I can tell you it usually doesn’t turn out well. Sometimes people stuff their feelings so that when the cup overflows they take it out on someone else. Other times they take it out on themselves and even a surge of uncontrollable symptoms appear (like a panic attack). When done over and over again people can show signs of depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and other issues.
People can stuff for days, months, years, decades… I’ve seen a lot of stuffing in my therapy sessions.
So my goal of this post is to say…. Stop Stuffing and Start Feeling!
EWWWW Feeling!!!! Yuck.
I hear you. Feeling isn’t the best thing in the world… good stuff maybe.. bad stuff not so much. Feeling feelings is hard work, exhausting and downright UNCOMFORTABLE!
So How do I even begin to feel feelings?
Start small! I’m a supporter of small steps as learned about in “What about Bob?”
Allow yourself to feel a little bit and when it gets just outside your comfort zone engage yourself in some relaxation and calm down again. Then feel some more outside your comfort zone and calm yourself down again. Every time a feeling arises and you allow yourself to feel just past the comfort zone before relaxing, you slowly increasing your tolerance for emotion!
Now, there is no need to work yourself up and make yourself uncomfortable. Life is good about giving us plenty of opportunities to feel shitty. So when an opportunity comes your way, feel the feels and then go to your “calm place.” Slowly build that window.
When the feelings come in, the healing can begin.
Use affirmations, be compassionate to yourself, change your negative thoughts, but don’t let these skills stop you from feeling your feelings. Ignored feelings fester and turn into bigger problems. Go past your comfort zone and allow the wave of emotion to ebb and flow. Ride the uncomfortable roller coaster toward healing.