Honoring Our Feelings

As human beings we experience an array of feelings ranging from simple to complex. Feelings are not valid or invalid; good or bad; they simply are part of life. When we are brave enough to slow down and mindfully listen, our feelings surface and show us their gifts. The key is to own what we are feeling, experience it fully, release it, and acknowledge its gift. The more we do this, the better we feel about ourselves.

Sometimes it’s hard to put a name on what we’re feeling. All we know is that we have a heavy heart. Well-meaning people can suggest that an incident we are trying to process isn’t a big deal, advising us to get life into perspective. It is never helpful to tell someone how they should feel about an event in their life. If that happens, we need to remind ourselves that what we are feeling is real and valid.

Sometimes we know right away what feeling is being triggered, and we’re afraid to let it show. Honoring our feelings means that when we are mourning a loss, we don’t need to pretend we‘re not struggling. Our struggle is real. When negotiating a major change we don’t need to hide our insecurity. When managing a depleting illness we need to turn personal criticism into compassion for ourselves. When we have been disrespected, betrayed, or violated in any way, feelings of anger and a need to be understood are important. It doesn’t matter what is significant or insignificant to anyone else — our feelings deserve respect.

Rushing, overdoing, over-giving, and overeating are examples of habits that keep us from being in touch with our emotions. The more present we are with our feeling reality, the more we benefit. Author Linda Popov writes, “The key is to give yourself permission to experience your feelings, own them, then release them. When you do this, you will emerge into a lighter, more vital place. I promise you, you will feel more alive and your relationships will benefit from your increased vitality.”

When we have processed our feelings, we need to give them a healthy release. Talking it out with a trusted friend can be therapeutic. A feeling journal is an excellent way to clarify what is happening. Creating art, music, or poetry is a helpful release, as are long walks in nature. Treat yourself to what makes you feel good: a long hot bubble bath, a favorite beverage, a long read in your favorite relaxing place, a movie, a massage, or a talk with a supportive friend. And above all, be kind and gentle with yourself.

For those times when life is so overwhelmingly difficult and we are angry, we can be creative in releasing anger. I’ve used pillow pounding, vigorous stone throwing into a lake (not at people), and driving to an isolated corner of a park to scream (with the windows up) until I felt relieved. This is much better than yelling at our families or kicking the dog. And remember, there’s nothing like a good nose-reddening, puffy-eyed, Kleenex-drenching cry. Exercising vigorously is another way to release pent-up feelings with the added advantage of burning extra calories. One Friends After Diagnosis meeting featured the advantages of dancing as therapy. The dance instructor freely admitted to dancing around his house with his dance reflecting his feelings. If our dancing rendition looks more like stomping then dancing, it doesn’t matter. We’re discharging our anger and the benefit is still there.

By having the courage to honor our feelings, we open ourselves to the gifts available through our increased understanding of emotions. We pick up on subtle details of the day that might otherwise have slid by from lack of attention: the sun shining through a branch outside a window, the smile on the face of an elder, the laughter of a child at play, or the way hot chocolate smells before it’s tasted. We act instead of react because we are in tune with how we are feeling. Bett Tsa’megahl wrote a beautiful poem on The Gifts of Feelings which follows.

When I claim my pain
I receive the gift of compassion
When I claim my anger
I receive the gift of justice
When I claim my loneliness
I receive the gift of friendship
When I claim my guilt
I receive the gift of forgiveness
When I claim my shame
I receive the gift of humility
When I claim my fear
I receive the gift of trust
When I claim my solitude
I receive the gift of faith

Our emotional center is a valuable part of us carrying with it the gift of increased health and wholeness. Through honoring our feelings, we can learn to more fully love our self and others, and be loved in return. That sounds like a productive way to begin 2019.

Until Next Time – Sylvia

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