We live in a society that believes that facts, science and rationality will solve all our problems, and yet we are still ruled by our feelings and emotions. Suppressing and AVOIDING our difficult feelings simply blocks us from learning valuable information about ourselves – and ultimately freeing ourselves from the pain!
I had a strong, outspoken client who panicked whenever she needed to stand up to her boss. Totally out of character for her, she would clam up and say something silly in her fright, then go home, replay what happened and beat herself up. One session, while exploring this issue I asked her what images she had in her mind when her boss was being overly critical. She told me a story of a school bully who had completely humiliated her in front of her entire class. No-one would play with her for a week. I asked her, “What are you feeling right now?”, and sat there while she told me how shaming the whole incident was and how painful it had been for her. She cried (like a baby!) and was a little embarrassed – after all this was 30 years ago! And afterwards we simply continued with our session.
But, as she was deciding her actions for the week that her face suddenly lit up! She had realised that she was afraid that if she stood up to her boss he would shame her – and she would lose the respect of her colleagues.
This ‘Aha Moment’ was a turning point for her. Once she looked at – and listened to – her feelings instead of avoiding them, she could see them for what they were – thoughts and fears of what might happen based on a past memory.
I’d like to be able to say she never panicked again. But what actually happened was that the next time her boss criticised her, the panic came – and this time she understood what was going on for her. We had done some preparation and come up with a strategy that included breathing deeply, self-soothing (saying kind words to herself) and memorising a sentence she could say to her boss, so she was able to cope. In fact she did more than cope, she stood up for herself and went on to have a fantastic relationship with her boss!
All too often emotions are seen as something that gets in the way. They are seen as ‘unprofessional’, ‘weak’ or ‘manipulative’. And because our feelings reveal who we are – they can leave us feeling very vulnerable. So of course we try to avoid them!
But inside our painful feelings are hidden stories. Stories based on a past that can’t heal unless we stop and look! It may have happened 10/20/30 years ago, but until you OWN that experience and take care of the ‘wounded’ self, that experience will OWN you – and may be triggered when you least want or expect it!
So, what’s YOUR Story? Our feelings are simply messengers or signals that we need to take care of ourselves – it’s time so start listening!
Final Tip: When you (over)react to an experience in your life, to see if a painful memory has been triggered, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “How old do I feel right now?” And this will give you a clue. Whether you’re feeling fear, shame, disappointment, rejection (I could go on!), take the first number that pops into your head – and if it’s not your current age, the chances are a past painful memory (or memories) have been triggered and that’s why you’re (over) reacting and feeling so emotional.
PLEASE NOTE: If your memories are incredibly painful or damaging, you may need someone to support you. Please trust your gut-feeling on whether you can do this alone – or need help from someone trained to help like a counsellor or therapist.
If you liked this article of dealing with painful feelings, you may also like:
- How to End Your UNhappiness
- A Simple 3 Step Model to Deal With Difficult Feelings and Emotions
- Be Happy for LIFE: Why Your Feelings Are More Important Than Goals
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