Feeling Feelings Sucks

In coaching school, we’re taught how incredibly important our emotions are and how important it is to learn the skill of feeling our feelings.

I thought this was a skill I would just inherently have. Yeah, it’s not.

Recently during a session, I was trying to explain to a client how to allow emotion, and I couldn’t do it.

I mean, I knew from an intellectual level how it’s supposed to happen. But when my client was asking me questions on how to allow their anxiety, I couldn’t answer. Whoa. Not okay.

So learning how to “allow” emotion has become my homework and holy shit, I am not good at it.

It turns out I don’t allow my feelings, I resist them. Especially negative emotions like fear and anxiety.

I thought I was allowing them, but I wasn’t.

What I was actually doing was resisting them, avoiding them, or trying to change them.

The more I tried to fix them or resist them, the tenser I would become. The tenser I became, the more I would take it out on people around me.

Sometimes the whole damn family would snowball.

I’d snap at my husband, I’d snap at the kids, now they’re blaming each other and arguing, it was all ugly.

I’ve made it my mission to master feeling my feelings. This is what I’ve learned so far:

  • You can run from emotion, but you can’t hide. If you suppress it one way, it will show up in another. If I try to stuff/resist my anxiety, that just creates tension. Neither one feels good, but for some reason, my brain thinks tension is safer because that discomfort is familiar. So it’s actually easier for me to feel tense than anxious. But that emotion wasn’t helpful, it just made me feel worse.
  • Resisting negative emotion is fucking exhausting. Why? Because the more I try to suppress it, the bigger it gets, and it starts to feel uncontrollable. Now don’t get me wrong, sitting with my anxiety is not “pleasant,” but it requires less energy than trying to stuff it, resist it, and suppress it. For me, a telltale sign that I’m resisting my emotions is when I get tense. I feel pressure in my chest, the tension in my throat, and my neck starts to hurt.
  • If you resist negative emotion, you also resist positive emotions. I noticed that I was resisting joy, happiness, etc. in similar ways that I was resisting negative emotions. I don’t want that!
  • Allowing feelings is not intuitive or easy. I have to make a conscious effort to bring awareness to the sensations in my body associated with my fear, anxiety, etc., what they feel like, where in my body they occur and open myself to them.
  • Breathing is crucial. I had no idea how much I actually held my breath until I started doing this work. Yes, I hold my freaking breath when I start to feel tense, which is a lot. Taking some slow deep breathes goes a long way in making the sensations more tolerable.
  • Trying to “fix” it only makes it worse. My initial instinct is still to try to “fix” the emotion in the sense of doing anything and everything to make it go away as soon as possible. But the more I try to “fix” it or change it, the longer it stays. “Nothing has gone wrong,” is another favorite mantra of mine to remind myself I don’t have to fight the emotion and negative emotion is normal.
  • You have to acknowledge it. Many times just acknowledging the emotion actually helps take the edge off. I literally say to myself, “I am feeling anxious,” or “I am feeling nervous, and that’s okay.” It might sound crazy, but it works, and that’s all that matters to me.
  • This takes practice. This was probably the most important lesson learned. I’m the queen of bailing if I’m not good at something right away and allowing emotion is for sure a skill and something that requires practice. 

Think about it. How much of our lives do we spend avoiding negative emotions?

We scroll facebook or Instagram the moment we are bored. We have a stressful day, come home, and pour a glass of wine or order take out. How many times growing up were you told to “cheer up!” And I’m not judging any of these activities or saying we shouldn’t do them. I’m just pointing out how we are taught to avoid negative emotions instead of feeling them.

And why even bother, you ask? Because I don’t want my life to be dictated by my fear of negative emotions. I don’t want to miss out on opportunities because I’m afraid to feel afraid.

I actually missed a networking event because I was so exhausted from fighting with my anxiety all day I couldn’t bring myself to go. That’s not what I want my life to look like.

I still get anxious. I still fight it sometimes and get tense and occasionally snap at my kids. It still feels overwhelming sometimes, but I keep practicing. I keep practicing, so I no longer feel at the mercy of my anxiety, fear, worry.

I keep practicing, so I become just a person who experiences negative emotions instead of a person ruled by their negative emotions.

And I keep practicing so I can show others that they can do it too.