So many of us drift through life either suppressing, dismissing or denying our feelings.
What’s the harm in keeping busy? None. Unless you are keeping busy to avoid your feelings. The effect of that – usually somewhere in between disempowering and downright destructive.
I see clients in sessions every day who struggle to get in touch with, accept or express their feelings, during the process of therapy I encourage them to “express their truth” and “stay with the feeling”, but what does it do to us when we deny what we really feel?
Impact on Physical Health
The effects of suppressing our feelings can greatly impact the body and overall health. Studies have shown that unprocessed feelings can raise blood pressure, cause headaches, skin disorders, digestive problems and even chronic pain. Other research, published in healthcare and medical journals such as Cancer Nursing, show that suppressed anger and painful feelings can actually be a precursor to cancer. Shocking as it sounds, the link between feelings, and immune system and body functioning is clear when you think of how anxiety and stress can lead to a wide variety of physical symptoms such headache, bowel problems, palpitations, candida and cold sores.
This is a term that encompasses a wide variety of destructive and denying behaviors that are a reaction to someone else’s behavior, usually alcoholism, drug addiction or other mental health issues. Codependent traits affect millions of people, people who strive every day to change and control loved ones and influence their behavior and decisions. In the context of feelings, people who are codependent have learnt (usually at an early age, but sometimes later in life through a relationship with someone who has either substance abuse or mental health issues), that their feelings are less important than the next person’s and as a result either chronically suppress their feelings, or act out passive aggressively while feeling impotent and unheard.
Codependency usually leads to a pattern of unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships, brooding resentment and a whole host of physical and mental health issues. The key – to learn that your feelings are valid, are important, and to detach from trying to control others as a way to feel better about your own feelings.
By far the most tragic result of denying our feelings is that we remain living in inauthenticity, trapped in shame that what we feel is either ungrateful, unfair towards others, or just downright crazy. Ironically, the craziest thing is the world is pretending to yourself that your feelings don’t matter.
- You may have learnt they don’t matter through a childhood of either being told they don’t or just no one really asking what is was that you felt or needed.
- You may have had something bad happen when you showed strong emotion as a child, or spoke up for yourself, like violence, aggression or disapproval.
- You may have been shamed into thinking that you should think or feel in a particular way, either through religion, unspoken family rules or just a pervasive family culture that encouraged you to feel, act and be a certain way.
Whatever the cause, if you recognize yourself as someone who is either afraid or unwilling to acknowledge or voice your feelings, give yourself permission, know that your feelings will not destroy you or those around you – only acting on them in a destructive or negative way can do that.
Why am I so angry?
The only emotion that most people feel comfortable showing is anger. Often in families where health emotional expression and good communication is lacking, the only feeling that gets expressed is anger. It may have even been the only authentic emotion you saw modelled for you as a child, that was considered ‘acceptable’ in your family.
The truth is that anger is a shadow emotion. This means that is hides other feelings, which are usually the true cause of the anger – either hurt or fear. For a number of reasons, some involving not wanting to seem ‘weak’ or appearing vulnerable, people feel unable to show their pain or their fear, but mask it instead with anger. Very often you may not realize what is behind your anger, but if you think back to a time when you felt angry, you’ll likely recognize that either your feelings were hurt in some way or you were afraid or insecure about something.
Anger in itself is a true and valid feeling; it really only causes problems when it’s expressed aggressively or in a way that hurts other people. Next time you’re feeling angry about something, ask yourself, am I feeling hurt or fearful or something? When you’ve identified the underlying feeling, try staying with it and expressing it instead. You’ll instantly diffuse a lot of your anger and certainly get a more satisfying response from others around you.
If you know that you’ve experienced serious trauma in your life, either physical, mental or emotional then tuning in to your feelings can feel too overwhelming and you may need professional help to ‘go there’, such as therapy. There are many gentle and effective treatments that can help you start to process and share what you feel about what you’ve experienced, such as Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) and various forms of energy clearing, such as Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT).
People start to heal from moment they feel heard
Just having another in the room to non-judgmentally bear witness to what you feel can be an empowering and healing process. You may experience for the first time that your feelings are valid and that they matter. The only thing more isolating than suffering alone with your feelings is denying they exist or that they don’t matter! You are cutting yourself off from who you are and your divine right to be seen and heard as a living, feeling human soul.
To tune in to what you feel, follow these simple steps:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place, with minimal distraction.
This first step is what most of us unwittingly avoid doing. We spend our days going from one project to the next, occupying our thoughts and busying ourselves in tasks and conversations, as either a conscious or unconscious attempt to prevent ourselves from having to access what we feel. STOP. BREATHE.
- Take a few deep breaths.
Deep breathing (using the diaphragm not the upper chest and shoulder muscles), triggers the central nervous system to slow down, lowering blood pressure, slowing the heart rate, reducing the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline into the blood stream and reducing the electrical activity in the brain, which slows the hamster wheel of racing thoughts, giving you a clearer window to look within.
- Do a mental scan of your body.
In your mind, scan your body from crown to the soles of your feet. Notice any areas of tension and consciously relax them. This brings your focus out of the distracting mental chatter of the mind and into your body, centering yourself in the calm reality of the present moment.
- Notice your heart.
Draw your attention to the area of your heart. In Eastern tradition, including practices such as yoga, this is called your Heart Chakra. Just notice the energy and sensation in this area of your body, you may imagine a ball of light, noticing the color, shape and intensity of it. Stay with this and just notice what emotions come up. Know that you are safe, know that your emotions are valid, give yourself permission to just BE with them for a few minutes. Do not judge your feelings or try to control or alter them. Just accept them as you would a friend’s, if he or she told you want they really felt.
Practicing this simple exercise for just a few minutes a day can help you to start the process of noticing and valuing what you really feel. The more you do this, the more you get comfortable with difficult or painful feelings, that you may otherwise not want to acknowledge. If your feelings become too much seek the ear of a friend to share them with, or a therapist to help you learn to tolerate them.
Learning to be in touch with and value your feelings is the first step on a liberating journey towards being kinder to yourself and living more authentically. A journey towards better health, improved relationships, self-esteem, knowing yourself and feeling more at peace with who you are.
If you feel overwhelmed, lost in what you feel, unable to feel, or think you may have experienced trauma, please visit my website for more information on how to get in touch with me, or call for a free phone, Skype or in-person consultation: www.joannasmiththerapy.com