I have been tossing around the usual new year blog ideas; goals, intentions, making changes and none of them resonated with me like the skill and practice of “feeling your feelings”. That may seem like an obvious and unavoidable practice to some, but in my work as a Counselor I am often working with my clients to move out of numbing, avoiding, or feeling traumatized by their feelings and courageously feeling them so that they can heal. Chris Germer, a well known psychologist coined one of my favorite phrases and reminders; “When we feel, we heal”. I further want to dig into this practice with you because I was struck by a Harvard poll stating that millennials (those in the age rage of 18-38) are filled with more fear and dread than hope for their future. Wow! What will our future look like if we operate from a emotional place of fear and dread?
Tara Brach points out that “While fear is a natural and intelligent emotion, when fear goes on overdrive, we are in a trance of fear that contracts our body, heart and mind. Our resistance to the direct experience of fear sustains the trance and leads to decisions and behaviors that harm ourselves and others. Only by facing fear with mindfulness and compassion can we awaken from trance and reconnect with our capacity for creativity and full aliveness, wisdom and love.” Furthermore, Brene Brown says “We’re all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean that we can’t also be brave.”
So, how do we unravel fear, understand it, feel it, and be brave and not paralyzed by it or destructive in our reactions to it? Fear is what you experience when you are actually in a stressful or threatening situation, it is a present-moment emotional experience. It is an automatic response to a threat. Yet we can become conditioned to feel fear as a protective factor even when we are not in threatening situations. We become in the habit of seeing the world thru a fearful lens. This may be in reaction to trauma or chronic stress and anxiety. Our mind and body stays in fight, flight, freeze mode and always on the lookout for the next threat. So, to unravel and understand it we can practice mindfulness. We name it and challenge the story we are telling ourselves that perpetuates it. While yes there are scary things that may have happened in your past and may happen in your future, what is happening right now? Can you pause, relax, and tell yourself you are safe in this moment? When you do this your behavior is more apt to be intentional, rational, and responsive, driven by courage and wisdom vs. irrational, impulsive and reactive, driven by fear.
A common fear I work with is loss and death. When we live in fear of losing the ones we love, being abandoned, facing a illness or tragedy we can miss out on moments of joy and even resist them. Brene Brown terms this “foreboding joy”. She describes this phenomenon as “When something good happens, our immediate thought is that we’d better not let ourselves truly feel it, because if we really love something we could lose it. So we shut down our ability to completely enjoy so that we can also shut down our capacity for feeling loss.” This is not feeling your feelings. What would it be like to learn to embrace uncertainty, change, grief, and loss so that we can also embrace love, hope, and peace? I say we need to love hard the ones we love, because it will change, we will lose them and they will lose us. Think of what you give up and miss out on when you don’t? Human beings are strong and fierce and resilient. I witness this time and time again in my work. So as we enter 2018, let us be brave, unravel our fears and face them, soften our armor, and connect and reach out with love and compassion.
Below are some of my favorite phrases and practices to remind me of the value to feel your feelings and challenge fear:
Difficult Emotions x Resistance = Destructive Emotions (Chris Germer)
Name it to Tame It (Dan Siegel)
“I feel ________” vs. “I am __________.” http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/
What we resist, persists (Chris Germer)
When we feel, we heal (Chris Germer)
Label your emotions with calm attention vs. Worried Attention
Distract – Relax – Cope
Stop – Take a Breath – Observe – Proceed
Practice Gratitude (opposite of foreboding joy) By practicing gratitude for what you have you acknowledge the meaning and magnitude of someone else’s loss. Where attention goes, energy flows. Challenge your fear based lens and recognize and acknowledge the moments and experiences you are grateful for to cultivate a feeling of peace, contentedness, and joy. This is the energy needed to move through the difficult times.
Links to mindfulness meditations to listen to:
Daring Greatly Brene Brown