III. If we could stop acting as though feelings are a side aspect of human experience, rather than t
When my kids were tiny, I was struggling hugely with depression and didn’t know it. This manifested as rage and the rage got directed at everyone in my life, and especially at my husband and my older child. I hated myself for this, but also couldn’t find the magic key to make it stop.
So I enrolled in Non Violent Communication classes because I thought it would fix this aspect of myself that I was struggling with and hating. But the NVC classes missed the essential piece for me which was that I was not letting myself feel the soft and vulnerable feelings. It’s all fine to learn how to share what’s going on inside you, and how to hear what’s going on for someone else, but sharing like this requires the ability to feel feelings without being hamstrung by rules, which I didn’t have. So I got even more judgmental on myself. I had huge life breakdowns. The breakthrough that came was this series of realizations around how we build our shadow, which could also be said to be how we shut down our feeling centres to make ourselves match the world (our family) around us.
I realized, after a couple of years, that I couldn’t do NVC because it was so hard for me to feel what I was feeling right in that moment. It was also extremely hard for me to be vulnerable enough to speak those feelings. I could probably get back to NVC now and do it with integrity, but not then. I didn’t know that I had such a convoluted route to feeling feelings - as in, I only knew I was feeling soft and vulnerable feelings when I would find myself getting grumpy or angry.
So even from that point, talking about my feelings would not help anything or anyone, least of all the struggling mom with tiny children that I was. It didn’t help because I was feeling grumpy and angry and not allowing myself to feel what was under that: hopelessness, overwhelm, shame, sadness. If I did speak, the only thing I could talk about was anger and dissatisfaction. I couldn’t even begin to touch what was underneath it with my words.
My understanding now of why I couldn’t seem to handle this problem on my own is that we generally don’t make space for people to be feeling beings in this world. So the feelings get stuffed or transmuted somehow into something more complicated, like anger. When the vulnerable feelings are stuffed, it becomes extremely hard for us to see the pathway between what happened and why we are struggling in our life. It’s like we are taught that the things that happen in our life don’t or shouldn’t matter much to the flow of our life - like we should be able to roll with whatever it is and just carry on, business as usual.
So I was stuffed full of grief that I wasn’t feeling: grief at having given up my PhD, even though it was the right choice. Grief at having had two birth processes which were not what I had imagined at all. Grief at finding myself being too angry and intense with my tiny children. Grief at beginning to see that these patterns arose from my own childhood.
I learned from this that it is not enough for me to talk about my trauma and the places where I am struggling. I think this is the same for many people. It is one thing to know where your trauma comes from and quite another to be able to release it. It is hard to will yourself out of a behaviour that stems from a pattern of abuse, or even just lack-of-connection in your life if you can’t get at the core.
When the mind that you do analysis with is strong, and your voice is strong but not connected to your feelings, it is really easy to make it look like you’ve got a clear picture of what caused the trauma in your life. But that lack of connection to your feelings and your held body trauma makes it very, very hard to shift things such that you can feel your feelings from the inside straightforwardly.
Thus I have found that working with a counsellor who does just talk doesn’t work for me: I’m too good at talking and making it look like I’ve got all this life stuff handled. Which fundamentally changes nothing, and I’m still struggling underneath even if one more person now thinks I’ve got my shit together. When really, I’m a hot mess underneath. Maybe I’m only really fooling myself. I need to work with someone who bypasses my intellect and my talk to ask my body straight up what’s going on. My body can’t prevaricate and pretend in the same ways that my mind can.
So I always turned to shamanic healers, cranio-sacral therapists, rolfers, BodyTalk practitioners, and now, only now that I know better how not to try and make it seem like I have it all together and handled, do I see a counsellor who also brings me back to my body through Somatic Experiencing.
It is hard to live a full and beautiful life if feeling feelings in the body that you have is a hard thing.
In my practice many people have told me they’re very “emotional”. When I get to know them better, my sense is that they are actually out of balance with their emotions, as in, the moment that a feeling happens, they go into their whole song and dance to try to not feel the feeling. I wonder if they’re assessment of themselves as “emotional” has to do with being told again and again they are “too emotional.”
We all have a right to feel the feelings that we are feeling. This gets lost along the path of growing up. “Oh, I can’t feel that,” we say on some level. We don’t even know that we can’t feel. This doesn’t meant that we always act on our feelings. But we still damn well have the right to feel them.
Helping people to recognize and release the patterns and belief systems that stop them from feeling feelings is the core of what I do.