How to Recognize and Deal with Your Feelings (Part 1)
We’ve all been there. We have an experience that causes intense feelings to rise up in us, drowning out all others. We become momentarily awash in that painful experience, whether it’s anger, shame, anxiety, fear, or all of the above all at once. We feel so much so quickly, often without fully understanding what’s going on with us.
I had an experience like that recently. Without getting into the gritty details, I stepped in it with a family member, someone I love and care for deeply. I didn’t communicate clearly about some of my plans, and she was hurt. Of course, I didn’t mean to hurt her, but that’s beside the point. That’s what I was telling myself in between my flashes of anger, which is always a sure sign that I feel shame.
Another sure sign that I felt shame? I was quick to blame everyone else for the problem. I’ve gotten acquainted with my tendency to blame others in such moments over the years. As a result, I’ve become much better and not making things worse by actually blaming anyone. Still, the unspoken lightening bolts of blame coursed through my mind as I swore under my breath. (And yeah, I tend to curse when I feel angry in my shame, too.)
Falling Down . . .
I become my worst self in my shame. While I still fall face down in my self-loathing, I’ve learned from hard experience that none of the ways I used to deal with moments like this work very well.
Self-soothing with an addiction (my go-to was alcohol) helped for a little while but in the end only made things a lot worse. Blaming others only compounded others’ hurt and mine. You can imagine how all of that went.
. . . And Standing Up
Instead, with a lot of work and help from some amazing people, including my wife and my therapist, I learned how to recognize what I was feeling and put words to my pain. This is incredibly hard but very necessary work for all of us.
But simply knowing what we’re feeling isn’t enough. We need to be relentlessly curious about ourselves. Self-awareness and self-integration don’t come easily and require us to work hard especially when we feel our pain most acutely. Only by being non-judgmentally self-critical, curious about our internal worlds, can our hurts heal, making it possible for use to become whole again.
Making Vulnerability Possible
Of course, I’m a therapist and I’ve got all this shit figured out, right? Well, no. I’m a work in progress, of course, like the rest of us. To quote Rumi, “We’re all just walking each other home.” After I took some time to feel my shame, to let it in instead of trying to get rid of it or defend against it, I felt a little better. But something else happened, too.
I noticed that I started thinking about what I would say to my loved one to make things right between us again. I noticed that my pain had lessened inside me, leaving room for me to open myself to her with vulnerability and empathy. I could use the shame I felt to consider what an authentic, heartfelt apology might be based on how I knew I’d caused pain.
I could voice my shame in a way that brought us together, not tore us apart.
Learning How to Recognize and Deal with Your Feelings
I believe that knowing our pain and becoming vulnerable with others in ways that cultivate healing and connection is the most important work we can do. It’s the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to our loved ones. And it’s worth writing about.
So, I’m going to focus on that for a couple of weeks at least in my upcoming blog posts. How do we even get started doing this sacred work, especially in moments of intense, overwhelming emotion? If you have thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you.
Let’s learn from each other as we walk each other home.
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