“The more you hide your feelings, the more they show. The more you deny your feelings, the more they grow.” ~Unknown
Throughout my life, I thought of myself as someone who felt too much. I was very gregarious and could easily be consumed by moments of joy and celebration. But when I was alone, I could be overtaken by angry, self-destructive voices that would dominate my mind.
By senior year of high school, I was spending many hours of the day crying, and had taken to pinching and punching myself until I was black and blue.
I felt I needed to gain more control over my emotional state, be more rational, have more perspective. Those were the kinds of things I was looking for when I first called my therapist, Marc Bregman, who invented a unique method of Archetypal Dreamwork.
Instead of learning how to manage my feelings, though, Marc taught me something totally different: how to feel them at all.
Normally, it's taken for granted that we feel our feelings and know how we feel. We even believe we know how others are feeling. And yet, we can accept that how we actually feel in any given moment is often extremely complex, confusing, and difficult to communicate.
In fact, I would contend that we are usually in an avoidance reaction to our feelings rather than truly feeling them.
Why? Namely because feeling our feelings means allowing states of experience that are truly difficult: pain, fear, despair, or vulnerability. So we cling to our assumptions about our feelings and often confuse these ideas with how we truly feel.
We can spend our whole life cycling on this level of feeling, never letting ourselves be conscious of what is driving our emotional states underneath.
Yet, just as matter cannot be created or destroyed, the energy carried by these deeper feeling states do not leave our psyche simply because we want to deny they are there.
Instead, they fuel the myriad of negative behaviors that we are often trying to fix—totally numbing out, projecting our feelings onto others, blaming others for our feelings, or engaging in compulsive and self-destructive behaviors.
Furthermore, by keeping our deepest pains at bay, we also lose access to the sweetest and most joyful aspects of our hearts.
More than where you are from, how much money you have, what your family is like, or what knowledge you’ve gained, I believe that it is what you feel, what stirs you, what you love and what causes you pain that makes you you.
I believe that every human is connected to an eternal, infinite source, and it is our deepest feelings that connect us to this source. Through seeking the deepest parts of our hearts, we can learn what it means to manifest our true selves into the world.
To begin the journey of feeling of your feelings, try these steps:
Be open, be humble, and allow.
We often rely on our mind to interpret our inner feelings. Understand that our ideas about our feelings aren’t usually the whole story. Be curious and ask, what could be underneath this current emotional state?
Center your emotional experience in your body.
At the core, your feeling state is a physical experience happening in your body. Bringing your attention to where in your body you’re experiencing a feeling is a great way to deepen your visceral experience of it.
Don’t think about it too much.
It’s easy to get tangled trying to figure out what we feel by weighing various judgments, ideas, and experiences to determine what we should be feeling. What you feel doesn’t need any supporting evidence. It just is. Let it be.
Pay attention to your dreams.
Dreams, on a fundamental level, are felt experiences. They can be a tremendous help in mapping out your internal emotional landscape, especially the places we’d rather avoid. Try writing down your dreams and feeling into them rather than interpreting them. You may be surprised by what you uncover.
When I began following these steps, I had a number of dreams that showed me immersed in guilt for things, like being late to a meeting. By closing my eyes and concentrating on the image in the dream, I was able to attach the word guilt to a sinking, constricting feeling in my stomach.
This allowed me to become more aware of when I was feeling guilt in waking life. I didn’t realize it, but it was almost all the time. When I brought curiosity to those moments of guilt and understood there was probably a deeper feeling underneath, I began to feel fear, and eventually, desire.
In the past, being late to meet someone was my worst nightmare. The idea that someone might be agitated by something I did was excruciating.
I realized that all of this pressure I put on myself to please others was really driven by the deeper fear I had of truly being myself, regardless of what others thought of me. Once I was able to feel this fear, the guilt did not have as strong of a hold.
When I let myself feel how scary it would be to not be concerned with what others thought of me, I also began to feel how much I wanted this for myself. I’ve learned that feelings of desire, excitement, and exhilaration are often intertwined with feelings of fear.
Perhaps it sounds counterintuitive, but it is that same combination of feelings that prompts us to ride life-threatening rollercoasters or write soul-bearing love letters to the ones who have stolen our hearts.
We fear what we desire because we know how vulnerable we’d be if we actually got it. But until we let ourselves access the fear, we don’t have the opportunity to be courageous.
Now when I feel guilt come up I don’t get stuck there for hours but am instead able to access my fear much more quickly. I can let the fear run through my body and let it take the time it needs to transform into feelings of excitement or desire.
Through letting myself feel these things, it’s become much easier for me to decide what I want to do. Instead of making decisions based on what I think others may or may not like, I’m able to choose the things that scare me, and thus exhilarate me.
This is just a single example of a myriad of surface feelings I have learned to relate to deeper feelings within me. While I am very far from living out these lessons all the time, just knowing what these deeper states feel like has made a tremendous difference in my life.
I wake up everyday with curiosity as to what aspects of my felt experienced could be revealed next, and gratitude at the amazing journey that is exploring my inner self.
And it can all start with a simple exploration—what does it truly feel like to be you, in your body, in this place, right now?
Photo by Clay Junell