Pretending away a feeling

I don’t want to feel this way anymore…

When we were younger and had an emotional reaction to an event or situation it would often feel overwhelming and most of us reached out to an adult or someone older to help us understand the feelings we were having. If we had a positive nurturing support system our feelings were consoled and validated. If we lived in an unsupportive environment maybe we were told to stop crying, don’t be angry and stop your bellyaching. These early interactions with caregivers helped shaped our relationship to our feelings.
Many people will tell me they received mixed messages about their feelings when they were younger. They were told to stop crying, but then they were asked why are you so quiet, why don’t you tell us what’s wrong – they didn’t know how to react? These are some very confusing messages to receive as a child, so it is no wonder that we begin to not trust our feelings and we learn to stuff them down.
I believe that our parents and those who cared for us did their best and so my work is never about blaming parents or caregivers. Healing work is about recognizing feelings that are left over and unresolved from our family of origin and learning functional ways to deal with our feelings as adults.
Emotions are an indicator of what is happening in our heart or feeling center, similar to the lights on the dashboard of your car. And, most of us were taught to ignore the messages from our heart center and push them away or pretend we really don’t feel that way. In a way we learned to ignore the “check engine” or “low washer fluid” light on our heart’s dashboard – similar to putting a piece of duct tape over the light. I’ve heard people say I just want to ignore it, I want it to go away – sort of “not today I don’t want to deal with this now”. Most people do this especially with emotions that feel heavier or where there is hurt.
The confusion around emotion starts at a young age where we often learn to characterize or judge emotions as good or bad. Doing this brings judgment to each emotion and usually disconnects us from the purpose of our emotions. This is especially true when I hear people say I only want to think of myself as a good person who doesn’t get angry. They don’t want to think of themselves as angry because they have equated feeling the emotion of anger and expressing the emotion of anger as bad. Our emotions however are simply messengers for our emotional or feeling system – they aren’t good or bad, they are just an indicator of how we are feeling. As a point of comparison; would you call the light on your dashboard a bad light or a good light? The lights reference a problem or issue, but the light itself is not bad -The same is true for our emotions.
Many of us were taught that being angry was bad and feeling joyful was a good emotion to have. We were taught to judge our emotions and to stuff away the bad ones and only acknowledge the good ones. When we do this we have a distorted sense of the purpose of emotions and we began to disconnect from our true selves. This disconnection separates us from connecting to our authentic self. Many of us learned through our family or society to disregard or push down the emotions that were considered socially unacceptable. We learned to ignore the signals.
For some people their family or those around them didn’t know how to deal with the emotions of anger or sadness so their answer may have been to “get over it” or “don’t be that way”. Many of us learned that our emotions were in charge, or in control of us, and that we were not in control of our emotions. And then denial creeps in: I’ll just ignore the emotions and push them away if I can’t control them.
Many of us saw emotions played out in a big way = Big Anger, Big Sadness, Big Trauma. So we began to get the idea that big emotion means trouble.
At a young age I learned to believe that I should not be angry, because that wasn’t being a good boy and it just caused more trouble than anything. So I learned how to push my anger down and not express it. I did not learn how to appropriately express anger in a way that reflected my feelings and so no one else knew what I was angry about. I learned that I shouldn’t feel anger, or the anger came out as aggressive rather than assertive. So I chose to ignore my anger.
Or at least I thought I was ignoring my anger. Our emotions are very persistent as their main objective is to be recognized. So as much as I thought I was ignoring my anger, it was manifesting and presenting itself as me being sarcastic, or me doing passive aggressive things to express my anger in an indirect way. Because I was suppressing emotion, I would get stomach aches and I would feel tension in my body.
As much as I was trying to ignore my anger, it was just getting louder.
You can only ignore the check engine light on your car’s dashboard for so long before something serious happens to your car. So, we can imagine what happens when our emotional system which is trying to send messages about feeling angry or sad or anxious about something and we keep ignoring them? For most of us these emotions manifest into physical illnesses or complaints. (Louise Hay) My stuffing of my anger and other emotions manifested physically for me.
How do you connect with your unspoken or unacknowledged emotions? How do they show up in your body? Some people get migraines and for deep seated unresolved emotions heart problems or obesity for example.
Many people I have worked with over the years cannot really remember why they were angry. It becomes this mash up of a lot of different situations in their life that are all in the same ballpark. Some ignore the messages so long that they just feel like the depression is who they are.
Emotional messengers are neither good nor bad, they just are the message. When we don’t recognize them they get louder. For many people they have gotten used to the loud decibel of pain screaming inside themselves. These emotional messages have been working hard for a long time, sometimes years when say for example, I finally see someone in my office who has had chronic chest pains or lack of sleep. These clients have been to every specialist and the report is they are fine – it must be psychological. What they are having is a psychosomatic reaction to an emotion within them that is not being addressed. They are not listening to themselves and they are ignoring their internal dashboard lights.
We also wrap a story around the emotion. So a story may be this person hurt me and I’m mad at them and I’m not forgiving them. When I hear this from someone I say, Oh, you have someone in your prison and you are the jailor. But, in fact you are both in “Prison”. When we keep this story going and ignore the emotion it makes it very difficult to move past and heal. Karla McLaren writes in her book; The Language of Emotions, that when we just feel the emotion for what it is and leave out the story, the emotion begins to dissipate, “going into the emotion”. It makes it easier for us to deal with the core issues of the emotion because we have given ourselves perspective.
So what can you do to stop the cycle of the story telling and not listening to your emotions?
Stop and take an emotional inventory. By simply saying to yourself, OK, I’m feeling sad right now, or I’m feeling angry right now – what is this about? By taking the time to acknowledge the emotion it will not have to work so hard to get your attention.
But so many people don’t want to stop and listen, because they are afraid of what they may hear – but I believe what is really happening is that they don’t want to relive the story again.
You may not have to look very far to find an emotional messenger. Or, you may have ignored them for so long that you think the chronic anxiety that you are carrying is just a part of who you are. Your emotional system wants to send you a message and sometimes along with this message comes the physical reaction to feeling the emotion. So, you may feel tears welling up, flushed face, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, or the rise of anger within you, and so forth.
See if you can just acknowledge the emotional messenger. Such as, “Ok, I’m feeling really sad right now because….”, or, “I’m just feeling overwhelmed with everything I have to do”, or, “I’m feeling all alone”. All of these are real and valid and is something real that is happening within you. Try not to edit, minimize, or discount your feelings away.
Some people will say; “ well everyone has those feelings, or I just have felt that way all my life, there’s nothing I can do”. This attempt at normalizing is really self-invalidation – when we tend to push away or try to ignore and put some duct tape on our feelings. We just are trying to stuff them again like we have been taught to do, or maybe it is just easier to do this. But our emotional system won’t give up that easily. Our emotional system has a purpose to help us achieve emotional balance.
We all were closer to our emotional balance after birth and plugged into our authentic self. The feeling of the authentic self is when we feel the most grounded, most connected to our spiritual source, where we feel whole. When we were born we weren’t exactly a blank slate, but pretty close. We are born with our unique personalities, predispositions and genetic heritage. We come into this world eager to participate and learn. This blank slate or authentic self is imprinted by those in our family of origin and those around us – our environment begins to shape us. So, on top of our authentic self we learn how to relate to the world, we learn how to change and adapt to the world around us. With this changing and adapting there are things that we sacrifice and change within ourselves to fit into our world. This is discussed more fully in my on codependency and boundaries (picket fences).
Our life experiences filter and shape how we see, interpret and make sense out of our world. So picture this, our authentic self is looking out through filters of our life experiences and if I have had many wonderful life experiences that is what my authentic self see’s through. If I have had many traumatic or bad life experiences my authentic self looks through them as well – it just doesn’t feel like I can be myself because my filter or lens of this world is scary and chaotic. We are out of emotional balance when our authentic self cannot shine through.
In my example of my little boy self my authentic self began to look out to the world through the filter of codependent patterns of thought and behavior. So I retranslated my authentic to the adapted self (codependent self) so I could exist within my dysfunctional world. I adapted myself to fit into the world when I shut down my anger.
Our body, mind and spirit tries to always achieve a state of emotional balance, but sometimes we are not participating. Sometimes we have learned how to push away the messages and tell our emotional systems we don’t want to look at the messages or respond to them, we just keep on hitting the ignore button. Think how within your own life you have learned to hit your own ignore button? How have you learned to push away what your emotional system is trying to tell you?
This exercise is not about blaming yourself for how you’ve been bad all of these years and how you haven’t done something right. The last thing any one of us needs is a judgment from outside of ourselves telling us we are not good enough.
The message I’m giving you is to be gentle with yourself as you go within and look at the emotions. It’s not good or bad that you are feeling sad – You are just feeling sad, so now what will you do with the message that you just received from your emotional system? You can ignore it, but you’ve done that already. You can say well, I’m not really ready to look at all the reasons I feel sad, because that feels overwhelming. So what if you begin to just look at some of the reasons why you feel sad.
One way to do this is to say well, I know I’m feeling sad because this event happened, or because I did something to someone else. So, now just write that down on a blank sheet of paper.
Write down, “I feel sad because…(and name why).”
Once you have declared this on a blank sheet of paper, just look at it for a moment. What does it feel like to look at this emotional message that is now outside of you? You are seeing the emotional message written out – it’s no longer inside of you. You have made the emotion real and now you can’t ignore the message or play games with it any longer. The message is very clear now. So, as you look at the message how are you feeling? Are you still feeling overwhelmed? Or, is the message of the sadness kind of changing inside of you? Sometimes what this exercise does is change our relationship to the message. It’s not like it is fixing anything or making it all better. What you are doing is just beginning the process of changing your relationship to the message.
You are beginning to redefine how you relate to your own sadness. You are becoming in control of your emotions instead of your emotions in control of you.
Of course you can use this for other emotions as well, “I feel angry because…, or I feel hurt because…”
So you are now beginning to tap into your authentic self, your place of personal power. The authentic self carries with it your own sense of personal sovereignty. You are your own creator, but many times we have been taught that only others carried the ability to create for us, or that others needed to tell us what we needed to do, rather than trusting of ourselves in the moment. (Boundaries again).
You have declared to yourself that you feel sad or angry or whatever kind of emotion that you are feeling – that’s great. Now, you as the creator, you as the one who are in control of what happens with this emotional message – what do you want to do with the message that you have just acknowledged?
You may say, well I can’t do anything about it because this person in my life has died or something has been broken – it’s not able to be repaired. I certainly respect that and understand that you can’t go back in time. These types of exercises are not a one stop fix that you do this and it will be ok.
What we are doing is we are beginning to break up the log jam of emotions that have been stuffed away or ignored for a long time. So, it will take a while to process these complicated feelings.
Again, you may say, but I don’t want to deal with it, or it is just too painful to look at these feelings. I respect that and know that when and if you are ready to deal with this emotional message you will. There have been and will be plenty of people who go through their entire lives without acknowledging or processing their emotional messages – that’s just where they are and its ok. You can continue to do that or you can say I want to claim my personal sovereignty over myself and my emotions. I want to create the type of life that I desire.
We use duct tape to secure packages and projects so they hold together. See if you can use the strength of your heart to hold and understand and heal your emotions instead of taping over the emotion with denial.
Robert Jackman, LCPC
http://www.robertjackmantherapy.com

Helpful Resources:
You Can Heal Your Life – Louise Hay
Why Don’t People Heal: And How they Can – Carolyn Myss
The Language of Emotions – Karla McLaren

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