“We cannot selectively numb our emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” – Brene Brown
Sitting with your feelings can feel almost unbearable. For many years, it was the worst thing that I thought I could do. Sitting with my feelings hurt, and I didn’t want to feel that pain, so in return, I numbed my feelings.
Coping in a healthy way wasn’t a skill set that I possessed nor was it modeled for me. Many individuals run from their feelings in a variety of ways, because they don’t want to feel pain… but who does? Emotional wounds are hard to heal; we can’t see them, but they still get touched, bruised, and reopened. Our emotional wounds can stay open for years without healing. We can’t heal wounds with avoidance, but we can heal wounds with care.
At times, our feelings can be immensely overwhelming — whether it be anger, loneliness, despair, sadness, or shame. They can weigh us down and make us feel heavy, and even cause us to experience emotions that we can’t identify. This can also create a whirlwind of mixed emotions, which in turn can make us feel even worse. When we experience these emotions that are commonly labeled as “negative” or “bad”, sometimes our immediate instinct is to try to do everything in our power to numb the feelings that we experience, oftentimes without addressing them. We try to numb these feelings with avoidance, sex, alcohol, drugs, isolation, hurting others, and hurting ourselves. We go through such strenuous efforts to do anything but feel.
To heal, we need to feel. We need to acknowledge and address our feelings, and to do this we must sit with our feelings.
You may ask, what does “sitting with your feelings” look or feel like? Sitting with your feelings is easier said than done, but one of the first steps is slowing down and acknowledging the emotion(s) you’re experiencing. For example, saying “Hey, I’m feeling betrayed right now”. Then comes the why: “I’m feeling betrayed because xyz…”, and validating your feelings.
Self-validation is important, especially when it comes to sitting with our feelings. We’re often taught to seek external validation, and when we don’t receive that validation, we believe that our feelings aren’t valid. When we sit with our feelings, we can take the steps to wholly accept them and not push them away.
Finally, we must let go of self-judgment, shame, and guilt. We are allowed to feel what we feel, without permission from others. Shame, guilt, and judgment have the potential to elicit the same actions we take toward our other unwanted emotions… numbing and avoidance. With self-validation, we minimize judgment. When we let go of judgment, we accept ourselves and our emotions. Once we master that acceptance, we create the space for ourselves to let go of the emotions we are harboring in a positive and healthy way. The goal is to bring attention and self-awareness to what we are feeling, which is necessary to help us move forward.
In summary, here are my steps to sitting with your feelings:
- Slow down and notice any sensations (“I notice the heavy pit in my stomach”)
- Acknowledge and name the emotions you’re feeling (“I’m feeling betrayed”)
- Identify the “why” (“I’m feeling betrayed because…”)
- Validate your feelings (“It makes sense that I feel this way” “My feelings are valid”)
- Let go of self-judgment, blame, or guilt, and normalize your experience (“It’s okay to feel this way”. “Other people in a similar situation would feel this too”.)
- Accepting how we feel allows us to make decisions about what we will do with those feelings.