Most of us spend much time and energy trying to avoid hard things and making sure those we love avoid them too. Why wouldn’t we? Hard things suck. Pain, sorrow, loneliness, grief, anxiety…the list of hard feels goes on forever. Sometimes when you’re a person who feels deeply like me, even feeling intense happiness can be hard.
And it’s supposed to be hard. God has given us this life as a test, not a walk in the park. If it were easy everyone would do it (and we know that’s true because 1/3 of God’s kids chose not to). For me, I learned this doctrine through my whole life but once I graduated high school it hit me like a punch to the stomach. Life was SO much harder than I ever imagined it could be. Breakups and finances and loneliness and anxiety and depression and my mission were just so darn painful. So I ran from the pain like any self respecting adult. I shied from new experiences and quit things I wasn’t good at. I numbed.
FYI, the following paragraph and much of this post was inspired and brought to you by my good friend Brene Brown. She is one of my idols. Look her up.
We all do things to try to numb pain. Some people drink a few beers to take the edge off. Some people zone out in front of the TV. Some people eat junk food, immerse themselves in work, smoke a cigarette or two, busy themselves with activities, clean, or compulsively exercise. I numb by mindlessly scrolling social media and engaging in other’s lives instead of my own. In Mormon culture I’ve found that business is a common form of numbing. If we’re so busy making quilts and sculptures and dinner for the neighbors, we won’t have time to feel the hard things.
But here’s the problem with all these numbing habits- “PAIN DEMANDS TO BE FELT.” -John Green, The Fault in our Stars AKA my favoritest book ever.
Yes, pain will be felt one way or the other. If we refuse to acknowledge and feel hard emotions they will come out in one of 2 ways (in my humble experience):
- They will manifest as the wrong emotion. You yell at your spouse because you’re feeling foolish about a mistake you made at work. Anger is much safer to feel than vulnerability and shame. Or you become prideful and bitter because of a lack of success in dating. Bitterness is much safer to feel than self-consciousness and disappointment.
- The emotions will come out at entirely the wrong time, 20000% stronger. Have you ever just melted down in a sad movie, so hard core that people gave you funny looks in the theater? You’ve probably been numbing a lot of sadness. Or completely exploded at someone who did something that bugged you? You’ve for sure been numbing anger, guilt, and resentment.
One of the most life changing things I learned at anxiety school was how to FEEL these emotions and not to be afraid of them. It takes practice when you’ve been in the habit of numbing them for so long, but if you acknowledge, allow and accept painful feelings they will soon work their way out and won’t explode later. It’s like holding in a fart- if you don’t let it out you’ll have date gut later, and date gut is the worst (sorry to be graphic but it’s the best analogy I could think of).
Here’s a general thought process I follow-
Acknowledge- I’m feeling really __________ right now. (anxious, hurt, jealous, lonely, depressed….) I feel it mostly in my_________ (head, stomach, neck…)
Allow- It’s okay to be feeling this. It’s just an emotion, not who I am. It’s hard to be feeling this. This will pass.
Accept- I’m okay with this emotion being here. (This part’s a little trickier to describe. Maybe you’re not actually okay with it being there but you tell yourself you are. Believe it or not, lying to yourself is okay as long as it’s for a good reason.
Mindfulness is a great first step (refer to my mindfulness post) – if you practice tuning in to your body and to the world around you it will be much easier to tune into your emotions.
I’m SUCH a big believer in all of this stuff. I know I sound like a hippie but honestly it has saved me. All of my meltdowns on bathroom floors (hey, everyone cries on the bathroom floor sometimes) were because I didn’t know how to work through each of my painful emotions as they came up. Life is still really hard and I feel hard things every day, but I am confident in my ability to survive feeling them. Also I can feel them as I get on with the truly wonderful things about life, instead of letting them consume me. Please reach out if you have any other questions about how to apply this. `
Let’s all #feelthefeels and be #blessed and #stophashtagging =)