” I believe that in the midst of struggle, the center will hold if, and only if, we can feel the edges.” Brene Brown – Atlas of the HeartHey there. Welcome back to ‘Seen & Heard’, our place to land, breathe and truly see and feel each other all the way through to the other side.
What I know for sure about emotional discomfort is this: WE DESPISE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE. We despise it physically, financially, emotionally….we just do. We are hard wired to do almost anything possible to not feel pain in any way shape or form. That’s why the pandemic has been so super hard for all of us. It’s uncomfortable. We have fear and uncertainty. We have frustration, malaise and sometimes contempt for what is going on around us. We hate not having control and playing the outcome like a perfect poker hand.
The thing I’ve learned this past year, in fact this past month, is that control is a false commodity. We simply can’t control the outcome of this life. And attempting to control emotional discomfort through distraction and behaviors to move us away from discomfort isn’t control. It’s just replacing one thing with another.
Because the end of life is inevitable, and emotional discomfort feels like a lot, we lean into this false sense of control in hopes of changing the outcome or at the very least, getting the fuck away from discomfort as fast as possible! But life is messy. And beautiful. And oh so fucking uncomfortable! As things have been feeling super hard for a lot of us these past few months I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the importance of expressing our emotions, and getting into the understanding of knowing that our center will hold us – no matter how hard the emotion may feel or seem – and a couple of ways to help us get there.
“Without understanding how our feeling, thoughts, and behaviors work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other. When we don’t understand how our emotions shape our thoughts and decisions, we become disembodies from our own experience and disconnected from each other.’Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart
Ok, so I’ve said the ‘c’ word – Control. And how it’s used as a false strategy to help us feel better. The truth is that what can make us feel ‘better’ is also a false ideal. Because feeling out emotions, understanding how they show up in our body, getting curious about when they show up and with whom, and then what we do with THAT….THAT is the sweet spot! How do we get there? We learn about ourselves and our reactions and we learn how to articulate our emotions.
Once we gain self awareness ( and this can take a long, long, long time so be compassionate and kind with yourself!) about how we are showing up to the hard emotional parts of our lives ( and we all have them I don’t care what instagram and tik tok say!) the sooner we can begin the fantastic part of learning what they feel like in our bodies, and how to express them verbally, regulate them through healthy strategies and move on like the bad ass grow optimism warriors we are!
Feeling it in the body. Wait, what? Yup, our emotions show up in our bodies and, most often, our bodies are the ‘tell’ of an emotion being present. They are the barometers of our central nervous system. What do I mean by this? Well, have you ever experienced sadness and felt it all through your body or in your body? For example, you may feel your chest feels warm, your head feels cloudy and pressure begins to build behind your eyes, you may feel your hands get clammy and your mouth go dry. You may feel the warmth of your tears as they slide down your face. No matter what emotion or what physical presence it has for you, the teaching here is about the AWARENESS in your body. Some professionals call it mind body awareness and there are fields of health practice that focus on somatic experiencing as a therapeutic tool. I love this part of doing the work because it anchors us to ourselves. But learning how to practice this can feel hard and scary. How do we do it then? First off, we find a safe location to practice. And then we simply notice. Perhaps we begin with just ONE emotion that seems to feel like it’s hijacking us a bit. For me, that is anxiety. In order for me to learn how it shows up I have to PAY ATTENTION when it is actually happening. My shoulders feel tight, my stomach feels nauseous, it’s difficult to take a deep breath. Now that I know this is what happens physically, I can begin to use my breath to help release or at the very least, acknowledge and fill those areas of my body. With gentleness, curiosity, consistency and practice, we can begin the mind body connection between what we are feeling ( anxious) and how it shows up in our bodies.
Using language to express our emotions. Wait, what? Don’t I already know mad, sad and glad? Isn’t that enough? NOPE. Not even close. And the sooner we begin to normalize how to express what we are feeling, when we are feeling it, the better this world will be! According to Harvard Psychologist Susan David, “Learning to label emotions with a more nuanced vocabulary can be absolutely transformative. They can point us in the direction of our hurt. They can be beacons, not barriers, helping us identify what we most care about and motivating us to make positive changes.’ Our emotions are harbingers of what is important to us. I teach my clients this every day. They help us to make meaning of our lives and are nothing to be feared. Often I hear such criticism and self loathing around how we show up emotionally. Labeling emotions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The truth is all emotions are emotions. Not good, not bad. They just are. And they matter. And we matter. And often we feel lost in our lives because we can’t anchor to our own emotional experiences with grace and compassion. This disconnects us. And our goal is to connect to ourselves and the world around us, in order to feel the yummiest, dreamiest most emotionally connected and regulated version of ourselves possible. So where do we learn what emotions are and what their definitions are? Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown is my personal clinician’s favorite text right now. It helps clarify what emotions show up when and how they look and why they show up. I highly recommend you take a read. But for not, lean in. Expand your language around your emotional experiences. If you feel sad, could it be grief/hopelessness/disappointment/regret/frustration? Expanding our knowledge of emotions helps us to identify them and then express them. I feel heart broken and full of grief is a beautiful sentence. Let’s normalize this stuff, shall we?
Regulating emotions. Did you know that whenever we are in connection with other people that we co-regulate emotionally with them? Co-regulation is the subtle energy of another person influencing our own emotional state and vice versa. You know that time in your life when you were so excited, jumping up and down excited, and your ride or die was right there with you and you were happy and laughing and connected to each other emotionally? That’s co-regulation in a very informal way. Why does it matter? Because sometimes we co-regulate in places of our lives where the energy has us feeling different things, like fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion etc. Understanding co-regulation is the precursor to understanding our own healthy self-regulation and that’s why I’m talkin about it now. Because we are all constantly affecting each other’s emotional state. So what is emotional regulation? It’s about giving ourselves and others the permission to own our feelings – all of them – without judgement. Pema Chodron talks about this as ‘not to tight and not to loose’. So….we’ve found out where our emotions show up in our bodies and we’ve learned to put language to the experience of them, but now we want to shift from those emotions that may feel uncomfortable and towards feeling more ‘grounded’. How do we do that? Well according to Dr. Mark Brackett we can do a few things and they are as follows;
Recognize we are having the emotion ( oh….there’s that ole anxiety again…hello old friend)
Understand why it’s cropping up ( I didn’t get much sleep last night, I am in conversation with someone who I don’t feel safe with, the demands of my job are exceeding my cognitive abilities today)
Label it ( I feel anxious or frightened. I feel overwhelmed.)
Express it ( say it out loud and say it proud…use your words to explain what’s going on for you)
Regulate it ( mindful breathing, reframe the emotion( seek alternate ways of viewing the situation), take space ( go for a walk, close your door, get into safety and quiet)
How’s that for understanding ourselves a little better lovely? It’s a very quick and dirty overview, but I hope that at least one nugget stood out for you. This work, much like what I teach my clients, is the cornerstone of my own personal practice around understanding my world, making sense of it, regulating it and loving myself to the other side of the ‘suck’. It’s not easy. But the center will hold. So be brave. Lean in.
I see you. I am you. I love. You matter. xo