One of the things that distinguishes my work from traditional therapy is that we don’t spend a lot of time processing thoughts and feelings. Does that mean I don’t care about feelings? No, feelings are super important– if handled appropriately.
Here’s the problem: Most of what we think we need to process is not ours. So many people spend years in psychotherapy, journaling or talking to their girlfriends and trying to “fix” things they can never fix. This can feel exhausting, expensive and like a bottomless pit.
I work with highly sensitive people, and it’s amazing to see them turn on their intuitive powers and create fulfilling lives for themselves. Our intuition is indeed a gift.
And until we learn to manage it, it can confuse us to no end because all of a sudden if Mom is sad, I’m sad too. If my partner is angry, I think I did something wrong. If a co-worker is unsure of her life path, I start to freak out about mine.
And, as you may imagine, crying my Mom’s tears doesn’t get me very far. I could cry and cry and not feel better. Meanwhile, my Mom can’t feel her own sadness because I’m holding it for her.
Taking the blame for my partner’s anger only distracts him from processing it. He already had his own stuff to deal with; the last thing he needs is to also manage my reaction. And the last thing my daughter, clients or friends need is for me to get thrown off by someone else.
I have lain in bed awake thinking about someone else’s problem. It wasn’t fun! But as soon as I realized what was happening, I did a meditation to release the other person’s energy, and fell asleep instantly.
I think of our lives as puzzles. I can only do my puzzle with my own puzzle pieces. If I have your puzzle piece, it only dis-empowers you and confuses me. Even if I “mean well.” Even if you seem to want me to take it.
Now, if I’m leaving my own puzzle pieces on the table, or even worse– losing them in dusty piles in the closet, that’s a problem. My puzzle pieces include my desires, my thoughts and feelings, my experiences and all that makes me uniquely me.
If I give up on parts of me, I might feel stuck, scattered or hopeless. I might have to work really hard for little result and I might project my stuff through overly judging or admiring others.
About feelings… Our own feelings are super-important because they are the fuel through which we manifest.
Think about it. Can you remember a time when you felt so excited, so overjoyed about some new possibility in your life and it happened for you? A time when you had total faith you could have something and you got it easily?
What about a time you really “wanted” something, but had doubts, fears and anxieties about it not happening? Or maybe you tried to create something because you “should,” though you secretly preferred something else? I’m guessing that didn’t go so well.
The reason in all cases above is that emotions trump thoughts, actions and words. No matter how many vision boards we make, affirmations we say and goals we set, if our feelings contradict our intentions, our feelings win.
If we’re processing other people’s feelings, it gets even more muddy.
So back to my question: Should you admit how you feel? The short answer is YES.
And yet I encourage you to pause when you first notice the feelings, and ask yourself a few questions:
1). Is this feeling mine? Often we get an immediate yes or no upon asking this question. You could also imagine a gauge and ask it to show you “what percentage of these feelings are mine?” That works well for most people I’ve shared it with.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb– if you can process the feeling or solve the problem, it’s yours. For example, if you cry and feel better, or feel enlivened as you tackle that creative challenge, it’s yours. If it stays the same or gets worse, say bye-bye to that feeling or problem because it’s not yours! Find a way such as meditation, burning sage, dancing or working out to simply clear it out of your space.
2). Once you let go of the feelings or problems that aren’t yours, ask yourself “Why did I take that on?” Maybe you felt like you wouldn’t be loved, or like that other person wouldn’t be ok without your “helping them.” Once you discover your piece in it (however painful), you’re free, because you can take responsibility for changing it!
3). Feel what’s yours. Your own feelings need to be felt all the way through, while staying present in your body. This may involve breathwork, crying, beating a pillow, screaming, writing or talking to someone.
Sometimes we’re afraid to feel our feelings because we think they’ll last forever. In fact, the opposite is true.
The feelings that aren’t ours last as long as we’re holding them because they belong in someone else’s puzzle. Our repressed feelings last until we feel them because they are trying to tell us something. They start screaming at us if we don’t listen. However, once we let ourselves feel, they might be gone in minutes!
4). Consider how and when to express your feelings. Let’s say your partner or co-worker says something that triggers you. Maybe you’re jealous, scared about money, or you feel trampled on.
Do you say what you’re feeling in that moment? It depends. Besides taking the steps above to discern which feelings are yours (and I promise it gets easier with practice!), I suggest considering two things:
a). Does this person have the capacity to hear my feelings?
If no, find another place to express them. Meanwhile, you might need to step aside, take certain actions to care for yourself or the situation, or even transform the relationship if it’s toxic for you.
If yes, try communicating what you feel in your body first. “You’re an asshole” doesn’t come from your body; it’s simply a judgement that’s likely to cause more tension. Your body can’t be argued with and doesn’t lie. A comment like “When you said that, my jaw got tight and my heart fluttered,” creates curiosity and diffuses any charge the other person might feel about what you share.
b). Is this the appropriate time to voice my feelings? Even if the other person is a saint, it’s much more effective to share when there’s space to do so, perhaps setting aside a special meeting time. Of course, some feelings need to be spoken in the moment, but right before work or sleep is not the time to discuss your core fears or major life changes.
Ultimately, having an authentic relationship with yourself will center you in a way that helps you discern when to share with others and when not to. If you can be yourself with yourself, I am sure you’re attracting people you can also be real with.
If it’s hard for you to feel and share your feelings or even know which feelings are yours, that can draw to you people who “can’t have you” or who have unhealthy boundaries. You can solve this through meditation and other awareness practices.
Sometimes we need to talk things through, and so counseling has it’s place. But I remember one client’s excitement when she told me her first session with me had resolved things that 3 years of therapy hadn’t!
In her case, she learned healthy boundaries and was not only able to start living her dream life, she could actually love others more because felt stronger in her own skin. Amazing how that happens.
When you really master this, it gets exciting. I have had the phone ring with job offers, resolved issues with past lovers I ran into “out of the blue” and had breakthroughs with my partner immediately after feeling my feelings.
On the flip side, I have felt freer than ever as I’ve let go of processing so much, and instead use that energy to enjoy my life and serve others.
Have a question or a-ha about this article? I’d love to hear your comments below!