When we experience emotions that are uncomfortable it’s common to push those feelings away. We distort them, deny them to ourselves, and push them down inside. We use all sorts of coping strategies to help us to do this.
It seems like our feelings just aren’t acceptable to us unless they are ‘good’ feelings, like happiness, satisfaction, or hopefulness.
However, no feeling is actually good or bad. We tend to judge our feelings and label them either positively or negatively, depending on our past experiences. And when we judge our feelings, we are judging ourselves for feeling that way. This creates an inner turmoil that can lead to mental distress, such as depression.
Feelings are just feelings. It is the self-judging thoughts that we immediately have about those feelings that make them seem either good or bad. So, we keep the ‘good’ ones, and we push the ‘bad’ ones away.
A feeling is a signal from the body. It is our body telling us something. And until we truly hear and acknowledge what it is saying, then it will keep telling us it. Therefore, unprocessed feelings can build up over a prolonged period of time, causing all sorts of mental and physical symptoms and distress.
The more we use coping strategies to push our feelings away, the more they will nag away underneath and cause stress. We can end up in a vicious cycle where the things we do to help to push the less welcome feelings away actually cause us even more of these less welcome feelings.
This is the stage at which I often see people entering therapy. My work with them is to help them to process all those unprocessed feelings and to give them the tools with which to continue processing their feelings in a healthy way as they move forward.
Processing feelings can sound a bit technical and scary. All I mean by it is to fully feel the feelings. Fully feeling is recognizing that feeling in your body and allowing it to be, acknowledging that this is how you feel at that moment, and knowing that it is OK to feel like that.
Some people are surprised to hear that they are allowed to feel whatever they need to feel. They may have been told that feeling certain things isn’t good or learned to repress their feelings. They may be very disconnected from their feelings, due to traumatic experiences. There are many reasons why people disallow their feelings.
But it is never too late to start to connect with everything that you feel and experience the full range of human emotions. When you allow all your emotions to be experienced fully, you won’t need to push your feelings away and you won’t need to rely on unhealthy coping strategies.
Starting to sit with your feelings can be as simple as just sitting quietly and noticing what emotions you are experiencing in that moment. It is very normal and healthy to feel lots of different feelings at the same time, even feelings that feel contradictory to each other, like hurt and relief for example. Just recognize the feelings and accept them for what they are. Know that whatever you are feeling is valid and all OK for you to feel.
Accept all your feelings and welcome them in. They are all parts of you that deserve to be seen and heard. A good affirmation to use when doing this is to say in your head, write down or speak aloud, “I welcome all of my feelings and accept them for what they are.”
It’s useful to write down your feelings as you feel them. You don’t need to write much, just the feelings words, or whatever words you use to describe them. If you are creative, you could describe your feelings in an artistic way, such as through poetry, songwriting, or drawing.
What often happens when a feeling arises is that we judge it. We say I don’t want to feel that, or I shouldn’t feel that. This immediately gives us the urge to push the feeling away.
Maybe you are feeling guilty for feeling angry? That’s OK. You’re feeling angry and you’re feeling guilty, and both of those feelings are perfectly alright to feel. Maybe you feel a bit sad too. That’s OK, allow that to come in too and let it sit there.
Recognize the more acceptable feelings too, such as happiness, pleasure, excitement, and pleasure. These are all OK to feel too, even if you are feeling other things that may seem to contradict them.
Once you’ve felt each feeling, they will just go. It is the true nature of thoughts and feelings, that they do just come and go. They aren’t meant to stick around for long. It will take some practice to get to this point, but the more you welcome and allow your feelings to be fully experienced, the better you will feel. You will find that anger and stress won’t build up, as they are being experienced at the moment they arise.
It may be that you’re not in a good place to be able to start to do this on your own and that’s OK too. You may need the help of a mental health professional such as myself to help you through this process.
I hope that reading this has helped you to start to accept and acknowledge your feelings more. You deserve to live your best life and experience life at its fullest, free from mental distress.