People need to be heard, and to have their feelings validated. Everyone has a story – how they grew up, what happened to them, and how it affected them. Not everyone has had a tragic past or experienced trauma, but the most important thing is how one experiences and feels about what has happened in their lives. A seemingly small thing, like a parent being critical, may not have much effect on one person, but could be felt as significant, even traumatic, to another.
If stories are not told, if feelings are not understood, experienced, and released, they become stored in our bodies. I realize there is no way to prove this, but the evidence is there: if you are anxious, you might get a headache, or feel sweaty or nauseous. If you are sad, you likely will feel heavy and tired; if joyful, the opposite. Frightened, the heart beats faster — and so on. Many believe unprocessed feelings can cause illness.
I don’t know why our culture seems to facilitate denying, minimizing, or ‘stuffing’ emotions. We don’t want to feel our pain, yet the way to heal the hurt is to feel it. To feel it is to release it, and while this can be a solitary or even spiritual thing, it is sometimes beneficial to share with someone else. There’s a saying that a feeling shared is halved, or something like that.
For myself, I have found that writing is very helpful in sorting out and expressing feelings, especially when I was younger and had a hard time trusting others. Now I find that I talk more and write less, because I have people in my life who understand and listen.
Sorting out emotions, especially when it comes to relationships, is not always easy. One often has to be okay with contradictions and uncertainty; it’s normal to have more than one feeling about a person or situation, or to have layers of emotion. It’s important – and difficult – to be able to sit with the feelings, to just experience them and not get caught up in analyzing what it all means. There is information there, but words can complicate matters if applied too concretely. I think of feelings like waves of the ocean, always changing and flowing. If not allowed to flow, they will become a stagnant pond.
When feelings are allowed to felt and released – especially old, stored up pain – there is more room to let in other people, to let in acceptance, joy, exploration, understanding, and empathy. And I tell people it doesn’t matter if it’s something that “shouldn’t” bother you. You feel the way you feel – give yourself permission!
We are all important. We all have our stories, and none of them are insignificant. When I go to nursing homes to see clients, most of them are too sick or tired or medicated to talk much. But there’s always those few who, week after week, pour out the story of their lives to me, and what a privilege that is.
In future blogs, I hope to explore and discuss various different emotions in more detail.