Although we often want to move away from unpleasant feelings to avoid them, remember that often simply feeling it, fixes it. Situation One: As elevator doors were closing, I glimpsed a young child, maybe three years old, run towards the door to get in.
The doors shut on her fingers.
Hurrying and repeatedly pressing the “Open Doors” button, I could hear her mother bark at her sharply for running ahead. The doors opened and the little girl was holding her fingers, crying with pain and surprise.
Her mother dragged her into the elevator, then bent down to look at her dented little fingers. “That’s what happens when you don’t listen,” she said curtly as her daughter cried.
We often respond to pain by trying to educate people: teach them what they did wrong, tell them what they should have done or should do next. It doesn’t help.
I wished the mother would simply pick up her child, hold her, and soothe her pain instead of blaming her for her feelings.
Situation Two: I’m walking through a school on my way to a meeting. A child trips on the pavement and bumps his head on a pole. He begins to cry. His mother leans over and helps him get up saying, “It’s nothing, nothing happened, nothing happened, it’s nothing. No need to cry.”
I believe she has good intentions, but.
Clearly, something happened. Clearly, the child was in distress.
Negating, invalidating and minimizing this small person’s experience will not help. Teaching people that what they feel and experience doesn’t matter, is not real or needs to be overridden leads to deep internal conflicts, self-doubt and inner fragmenting.
I wish she had embraced her child, saying, “Ouch, I bet that hurt. Are you OK? Go ahead and cry it out – you will feel better in a moment. The feelings will pass. It will get better.”
Sadly, it’s not our habit to be with emotions … to track them … to trust their innate intelligence or timing.
Instead, we hurry in to make them go away by force, by intellectualizing, by explaining, by educating, by advising. Ugh.
If we deny ourselves the few minutes of crying that our bodies actually want, we deny ourselves our natural, innate reset button. And, when we don’t get a chance to reset, those feelings often split off and simmer under the surface for the rest of the day … or longer.
In moments of high emotion, especially painful emotion, we need to intentionally practice moving towards our feelings, not away from them.
The more we are able to feel into them, the less afraid we will be of them. The less afraid we are of feeling our feelings, the more emotional strength we develop. The more emotional strength we have, the more empathic, open-hearted and compassionate we become.
Slow down. Lean in. Move closer. Look deeply. Ask yourself: what is really important here?
Eugene Gendlin wisely reminds us:
“What is split off, not felt, remains the same.
When it is felt, it changes.
Most people don’t know this – they think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways, they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps those negative states static, the same from year to year.
A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change. If there is in you something bad or sick or unsound, let it inwardly be and breathe: that’s the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs.”
(By the way – the entire second module of my Building Better Relationships course goes into much more depth about the purpose and processing of emotions!)
Check it out if you want to do human better 😉
This reminds me of a poem by the 13th century mystic Rumi. It helps me when depression threatens. Instead of dreading the emotional turmoil that is coming and fighting to avoid it, it really helps to look at what is coming and accept it. Although it is hard to actually welcome it, meeting it head on and looking at it to see what it is and opening myself to feel it and let it sweep through me is much better than dreading it and trying to hide from it. Here is the poem:
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’re 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 whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Love this poem… love that you added it here 🙂