Emotional Regulation: Are You Afraid Of Your Feelings?
Blah and numb is how I felt for a good number of weeks after discovering that someone wasn’t who I thought she was.
Though this incident happened in 2017, I clearly remember telling myself, “I can handle disappointment, easy. I’ve done this many times before. I’ve got this,” as I tried to get over recent events in this friendship.
I had put on a good pretence and exhibited a “could care less” attitude.
Wow, so much for authentic expression and being honest with myself.
See, there had been many shifts in my friendships in the past decade. It was apparent that rebuilding my life after the car crash had to include working on the quality of my social circle. I had chosen to isolate myself for a very long time, and making new friends was vital. I’ve met some incredible people with whom I am glad to share a genuine kindred spirit connection, and I am grateful.
There were other new friendships, however, that were not working out in my best interest. I have to sheepishly admit to mistakenly believing that authentically showing up was somehow going to translate into reciprocal meaningful, authentic relating with everyone I met.
What kind of deluded fantasy was I living?
Mutual reciprocation and respect were lacking in one particular newly formed friendship. It didn’t seem evident that it was one-sided from the outset. I have to say my excitement (and desperation) for social connection after a long period of playing the hermit made me dismiss the truth. Once I saw it for what it was, I decided to keep my distance.
The disappointments weighed heavily, but so determined was I not to let myself feel hurt or sad, I decided to take an apathetic stance and denied that I wanted this to work, that some of my efforts had gone in vain. I didn’t want to face the heart-breaking reality that someone was engaging in nagging and manipulative tactics so that I could be used “for entertainment purposes only.”
I also didn’t want to feel the sting of knowing that I duped myself into believing that this was an “amazing” friendship I made it out to be.
I started scolding myself, “I need to get a grip.”
Get over it. Move on. Whatever. What. Ever.
I needed to take action. “Doing” something about my situation meant I was proactive.
I just needed to get out and continue to create new friendships, which seemed like a logical next move. Simple right? But the motivation wasn’t there.
Something was missing in between these disappointments/losses and inspired action to create new connections.
Two important things happened that helped me bridge that gap.
In an unrelated casual conversation with my mother, she could hear that all was not well with me without me having to say anything.
She said to me, “You sound sad. Is there something you are sad about?”
I fibbed that I was feeling tired.
But later that day, her question got to me.
Hot tears began making their way down my cheeks. Appalled by my inability to control those tears that were seeping out too quickly for my liking, I started pushing them back up, willing them away.
Not that anyone was around to see it, but I had makeup on, and in no way was I going to let some sadness mess up my perfectly lined, mascara-dressed eyes. Hmph. I did not want to look like the Bride of Chucky, even if no one else was going to see it.
No, no. I wanted to cry neatly. I wanted to look good and well put together while I had an emotional experience and apologize to no one but the person staring in the mirror for having it.
My chest felt tight and tense. Something beneath it wanted to explode.
I began sobbing.
Before I knew it, I had the ugly cry. The kind that unapologetically left my eyes red-rimmed, complete with smudged dark circles (not of the trendy, sexy style) and, of course, snot running down from my nose.
But something else happened. My guard dropped, and I permitted myself to feel betrayed, deceived, hurt, and sad. All these feelings I didn’t like being with because I felt vulnerable. I became aware of how these feelings showed up in my body in different ways.
I noticed how tightly I was clenching my fists and grinding my teeth when I felt anger. I felt my shoulders droop as I felt led down and disappointed. Acknowledging the deception I’d felt, I was aware of this big knot in my gut. I just let my feelings show up in all forms without filtering any of it and only paid attention to my body’s expressions of these emotions.
My mother’s simple act of noticing my unspoken sadness and calling it out provided the opening I needed to let myself feel without any judgment whatsoever, which diffused my energy. When I finished processing, I noticed my body eased up.
Whatever emotional release I felt also coincided with a release of physical tension in the body. I could breathe better. I felt more relaxed. From this, surprising insights came through. I noticed that I was good at talking about emotions, but feeling them was difficult. I found that it was effortless for me to feel anger and use it as a go-to emotion to cover up feelings of hurt and betrayal.
It wasn’t just treachery from another but the betrayal of myself in that I hadn’t listened to my intuition and that it was my fault for giving people the benefit of the doubt one too many times when I “supposedly should have known better.”
I realized that I longed for a solid, accessible soul tribe, and it was an unmet need that deserved attention. I noticed how much I was afraid of losing control and thought that I would not be able to handle it if I let it all out, that I would fall into the shit pits of shame and despair, never to recover. It sounds so dramatic,
I know. And yet, many of us are terrified of losing control of our emotions and appearing as if we are crazy. However, I discovered that once I gave space to what needed to be expressed, it lost control over me.
Another situation came along shortly after that to lock this lesson in place to reinforce the above point.
At the time, I had been receiving Ayurvedic massage therapy for chronic pain relief. The practitioner did not spare me at all. It hurt like hell as he pushed, prodded and mercilessly kneaded those precise roots of pain beneath my skin’s surface.
He didn’t stop even when I pleaded with pained expressions on my face, “No more! NO. MORE!” He did not have it. He nonchalantly said to me, “You’ll be ok,” as he continued with a massage pressure that felt brutal. He gave me no choice but to be with the pain and feel it at its highest intensity.
I didn’t die!
But first, I had to humble myself to the pain.
Humble myself to the pain?
Yes, there was a bit of pride lurking around.
Ok, ok, a lot of pride.
This got me thinking.
Since when did I think I could escape those very raw, real human emotions and pain? Since when did I think I could be “above it all”? I can’t help but wonder if some of the popular ideologies circulating these days encourage spiritual bypassing and sidestepping emotions, which increases our pride and ego and also shames us into feeling we are not doing things correctly.
I know I certainly felt like I wasn’t “getting it right.”
And I wasn’t “getting it right” because I was trying to avoid what I was feeling. I wanted to logic my way through emotions. I tried to disregard the body in favour of the mind. I ostracized and demonized the unpleasant-feeling but very normal and acceptable feelings. I learned that they are as equally important as the ones that feel pleasant and comforting.
They teach me something; it’s ok to have, feel, and be with the entire range of human emotions. Life calls for this at times. It is part of the human experience.
Despite all the trendy “How to Stay in a High Vibe State” (all the time?) contents out there, we can’t always be in a pleasant state permanently, this is more than ok, and don’t you dare go beating yourself up about it!
True healing cannot occur unless you allow yourself to “feel all the feels.” It isn’t about dwelling or stewing in any emotional state. But it isn’t about denying and shunning them to control our experience, forcing it to be a positive one or forcing ourselves into moving forward.
In my case, efforts to avoid feeling the pain also dampened my ability to be with joy, hope, or encouragement to explore new connections, and I felt stuck and unmotivated.
However, feeling all the feels opened the gateway to some important considerations that I hadn’t thought of before: What realistic expectations can I have in my connections? Where am I bullshitting myself with denial?
How can I learn to bravely accept the realities of human behaviour with honesty and appropriate boundary setting while also remaining open to future connections?
What can I do to trust myself more and recognize the possibility of being blindsided by heartbreak despite my best intentions and intuitive hunches?
Processing my feelings helped me think about things differently and, therefore, act differently (not necessarily perfectly, might I add) in future interpersonal relationships.
Sometimes the process of getting in touch with your feelings needs to occur several times before you are ready to have a shift in perspective, to lessen the intensity of your feelings or take empowered action.
It isn’t always a “one and done” deal. It isn’t a neat process, that’s for sure, and when you work with me, I promise to take you through it safely and respectfully and hold the space for you through any discomfort.
So turn toward what feels uncomfortable. Name it, claim it, give it voice, and express it through the body to be felt, heard, and acknowledged. Know that no matter how intense it will feel, that intensity will eventually dissipate with time and some strategy.
At the very least, it will provide you relief, and at the most? Transformation may occur in ways you never expected.
**I want to finish this post by saying that I think we need to learn how to discern when we need to tend to our feelings, when we might need to act first and feel later, and when it might be appropriate to explore the thoughts or beliefs that get in the way of feeling well and taking action.
Obviously, in the situation described in my post, I needed to process my feelings.
Still, perhaps in another case, I might’ve focused more on adjusting my thoughts, and yet another might’ve called for ditching the overthinking and taking action boldly.
Thoughts, feelings, and behaviours all intermingle somehow; it’s just that we might benefit from giving more weight to one over another depending on the issue at hand.
This discernment process isn’t easy, and it requires being mindful (noticing and observing without judgment), but I’ll explore this in a future post, so stay tuned!
I am a Professional Coach and can help you with emotional regulation and walk you through the process of dealing with your feelings. So please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
What would happen if you permitted yourself to turn towards your feelings?
What insights come up for you when you turn to your sadness, fear, anger etc.?
What actions can you take from the wisdom you received?