“If we don’t express our emotions, they pile up like a debt that will eventually come due.”
-Marc Brackett, PHD
Feel all the Feels.
We get clear on WHAT we’re feeling and we accept what we’re feeling but we have to actually do the feeling.
Unfortunately this is where more often than not we have to sit with our emotions and discomfort and allow time to heal. So. Freaking. Hard. But I promise this is THE only way.
Being Well with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson is an incredible podcast that I highly recommend. In a recent episode on navigating failure they described how the sooner we attend to our feelings when we face failure and rejection the better. Why? Because this is what both the mind and the body need. In order to move through and “regulate” our emotions in an efficient way we have to honor them and give ourselves permission to feel however we are feeling. Easier said than done.
One thing that can be incredibly helpful with this process is asking yourself WHERE you feel emotion. Without getting too much into the science of this we know that emotions show up in the body. Perfect example: description of “butterflies in your chest” that people often describe when they feel anxious or nervous. That’s real. Feelings and emotion have both a psychological and somatic component that can be VERY uncomfortable. So when we give ourselves permission to feel all the feels we want to allow and soften into the physical experience. For me, lately, it’s been a lot of sadness. My chest and stomach feel empty and hollow. My entire body feels heavy at times. In my meditation practice I focus my attention here, I allow the intensity of this to simply be without trying to make it go away.. Aka insert acceptance (refer back to Principle 2).
For most of us this seems hard to wrap our brains around and incredibly counterintuitive. It also goes against what society tells us about emotion AND how many of us were raised to deal with emotion. One of my favorite books on this topic is Marc Brackett’s, Permission to Feel. “Emotion regulation is not about NOT feeling. Neither is it exerting tight control over what we feel. And it’s not about banishing negative emotions and feeling only positive ones. Rather, emotion regulation starts with giving ourselves and others the permission to own our feelings - all of them” (page 145). For me, this process occurs once I have accurately assessed and labeled what I am feeling as described in Principle 1 of this series. Sometimes I even speak to myself and say “I have permission to feel ____.”
In her book on grief Its Ok That Your Not Ok , Megan Devine shares powerful words on what happens when we don’t feel our emotions. “When the body and mind experience pain, we have a biological need to express it. Pain that is not allowed to be spoken or expressed turns in on itself, and creates more problems” (page 87).
But part of the problem with doing the actual feeling is that it sucks. Our society more often than not tells us that this is not productive, it won’t help, and the better option is to BE POSITIVE and BE GRATEFUL.
If you take anything away from this segment it is this: You don’t have to always be positive.
I am NOT telling you to be positive. Failure and rejection suck. They can be incredibly painful and sad experiences and I will not stand here and tell you to just think positively. I think that does more harm than good and invalidates one’s true experience. We do not have good or bad emotions, we only have valid ones. What I mean by this is if you are sad that you failed, be sad. If you are angry that you were rejected, be angry. There is no RIGHT or WRONG way to feel when you have experienced failure and rejection. Your experience is your experience alone. You don’t have to wrap it up in a neat little bow and twist it into something positive. We have to stop telling people to “just be positive” and to “just find the good” in every situation. As someone who has experienced an IMMENSE amount of trauma and pain, I can tell you there isn’t always positive and good. When it comes to rejection and failure there can be an incredible amount of grief because these are LOSSES. Whether you are rejected by someone you have feelings for or you lose a game in sport it’s a loss. When we lose things a NATURAL reaction is some form of sadness. This is not wrong and it is not bad. It is NORMAL and it deserves its space. What we need to do is give ourselves permission to feel how we’re feeling so that we can attend to it.
Now, what I will also say here is that it’s also not healthy to simply SIT in our feelings and let them drive the bus all day every day.
Anyone ever felt like they are being SMOTHERED by their emotions? Trust me, I get it. Especially when we fail or get rejected I feel like more often than not it consumes me and affects every aspect of my life. I think part of this experience is recognizing that this is human. The other part is being able to find balance. What is incredibly helpful with the processing of emotion is to create dedicated time and space to feel all the feels.
A couple of my favorite ways to do this and carve out space for this:
-Meditate (Use an emotion specific meditation. For example, my meditation practice lately has been working with sadness)
-Set a time for 5-10 minutes a few times a day and open the flood gates. Let yourself simply feel all the feels. When the timer goes off, take a deep breath and move on to the next thing on your to do list.
-Ask a friend if they have time to listen and simply talk it out.
-Talk to a pet or stuffed animal.
-Go for a walk and allow yourself the entire walk to ruminate, cry, yell, speak your truth.
-Use art or some form of creative expression (drawing, painting, collage)
-Use a playlist or songs that match your mood / emotion.
-Simply have a good cry if you need to.
-Use a movement based practice to move through your emotions.
-Seek out professional help (AKA go to therapy because therapy ROCKS).
Why do we do this? Well it’s kind of like dipping your toe in a pond and pulling it back out. We’re giving ourselves dedicated time and space to “go there” with the rawness of our experience and then we pull back out and continue to move through our lives. I personally find this practice incredibly helpful.
With my most recent experience with rejection my process looked a little like this:
-My feeling of rejection still feels really raw so I put on a sad movie and had a very LARGE and needed cry
-Morning and Nightly meditation practice focused on sadness and processing emotion (anywhere from 10-20 minutes)
-Nightly reflection in my journal allows me to write down where I am at, no filter, no judgment.
-I created a sad playlist with all my favorite songs for when I am in the car so that I can sing and spend my drive allowing these songs to help me express what I am going through
-I have added a few more midday walks than I usually do because when you are going through something heavy, you need to attend to it. Having a midday walk in the sunshine has been incredibly helpful for me to think, feel and move all at the same time.
-I schedule time with friends that refuel me, will listen to me if I need it and will NOT judge me if I all of a sudden break down and cry.
-Writing. I love to write and writing is a way I express and heal myself. Writing this series has given me the space I’ve needed AND helped me process simultaneously.
But there is also a piece of this that requires continued validation and acknowledgement of our emotions as they arise. As I have mentioned multiple times, rejection and failure sting. I have found that sometimes my sadness hits me in the most random and inconvenient times. I have to honor this. So in these moments I choose to pause, accept, feel and use self compassion to attend to my experience. I don’t push it away or try to muster up some “positive” phrase that will help me feel better. I don’t instantaneously tell myself 3 random things I’m grateful for. That’s not what I need. What I need is to attend to exactly what is showing up for me in the moment. This is how we honor our existence and our experience. This is how we navigate.
We need to understand that this is a process and a process that is not always linear. This may take MULTIPLE attempts and various tools and skills and that is ok. We also need to know that we do have a choice in moving in and out of our feels. I am a full advocate of balancing FEELING all the feels and also pushing pause and taking a break. We have to give ourselves permission to feel and permission to take a break. Sometimes it is a balancing act of feeling and distracting or taking a break and I don’t think that is a bad thing.
All in all this stuff is hard because rejection and failure are hard. But if you stick with it and give yourself permission to feel, I believe that you will ultimately give yourself exactly what you need and heal in a more efficient way.