Feeling Your Feelings: Emotions Make Us Alive


When folks first come into therapy, there are more unresolved issues than there are completed ones. That means, at first, there may be more “negative” feelings than “positive” ones.

These are hard feelings. No one wants to feel these painful feelings, such as sadness, anger,  grief, and disappointment. Most folks fight and kick and scream about it, but they eventually do one of two things:

  1. leave therapy, or
  2. manage to keep coming every week.

All emotions form part of a spectrum that makes us fully alive. Many of us spend so much energy trying to avoid negative feelings that we miss out on a big part of life.

If we choose to cut off our ability to experience our painful grief and rage, we incapacitate ourselves from experiencing exquisite highs, too. One goes with the other. Life is both dark and light. We have daytime, and we have nighttime.

Feeling Your Feelings Means Learning to Process Your Emotions — Good and Bad

It can be hard to accept this reality. If you shut yourself off from one emotion, you get truncated with the other. They balance each other out. But it takes real effort and strength to feel the pain in our heart so that we can feel the joy, too.

No one wants to feel bad feelings, because many of us were overwhelmed by our feelings as youngsters. We were left completely on our own to make sense of what was happening inside us. No one comforted us, or helped us process emotion in real ways.

Our parents couldn’t help because they had limited equipment. They were trying like heck to hold back the dam of their own pain.

Instead, they scolded us and told us we shouldn’t feel that way. Or simply never asked about it. Or however they expressed what was essentially their discomfort with emotion.

In their time, it’s likely these feelings were signs of weakness in a culture that desperately had to keep going — no matter what trauma had occurred. Or perhaps these feelings were dangerous in a family where one person was an addict; they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay attention to our moods.

Whatever the reason, we were probably not listened to or soothed, so we learned the complicated, conflicting message that emotions didn’t matter… and that our feelings could overwhelm or hurt us.

Meditative practices might tell us that we’re not our feelings. But I think what they really mean is that we shouldn’t wholly identify with our emotions. That is true. We are not just our pain, anger, or ecstasy.

But from a holistic perspective, we are our feelings. Our feelings are us. Moment to moment, they define us, and they make us who we are. We experience our lives and our inner selves through them. They are valuable information.

For that reason, I believe it’s worth learning how to surf the waves.

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