All the Feels

It’s feeling day! How have I gone this long without a post entirely dedicated to feelings? There are so many misconceptions around feelings and in today’s post we will attempt to address some of these.

Feelings are abstract, difficult to control, and temporary. It is tempting to want to make sense of our feelings. There are times when this can be helpful, but like any coping strategy it can be taken to the extreme or it can backfire. Sometimes feelings make sense, but many times they don’t. They are neither logical nor predictable. This makes them difficult to control or manipulate. Is it possible to avoid, dull, ignore, or suppress feelings? Absolutely it is! However, the tools we use in order to try to change our feelings always come at a cost. To illustrate my point, let’s name a few things that people commonly use to escape their feelings: screen time, food (or lack thereof), sex, sleep, substances, screen time, work, exercise, shopping, and screen time. Each of these things are fairly benign on their own, but we can all think of examples of each of these things becoming problematic.

This leads us to my final point about feelings. They are temporary and cannot harm you. Feelings are going to come and they are going to go as they please. The only thing sadness can do to you is make you feel sad. When we try to push away sadness or other difficult feelings, that’s when they start to hang around longer. That’s the conundrum many of us find ourselves in. We have a feeling we don’t want to feel. We attempt to get rid of that feeling by exercising/shopping/picking up our phone (insert your strategy of choice here). But the feeling keeps coming back over and over again. So, we keep trying our strategy more and more often. Now our coping strategy is out of control and this feeling is STILL HERE. But there is an alternative to this vicious cycle. What if we all took a little time on a regular basis to sit with our feelings? This is an obvious and simple idea. But do not mistake simplicity for ease. It is hard work to sit with your feelings, especially at first. So hard that you may even need another person you feel safe with to help you. If you would like to practice sitting with your feelings, you might try this exercise. I’d like to leave you with a poem that has helped me and many of my clients over the years:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
                                                        — Rumi
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