Several years ago when my grandpa died, I was on the phone with my sister when she said “I must not be that sad, I haven’t cried yet.” This statement has stayed with me for years because it gives so much light into how we view our feelings and emotions and how we let others view them. The fact that my sister felt like she was not sad or grieving because she was not shedding tears shows how much weight we put on feelings and emotions especially visible ones like tears. As a society we have set up expectations for people about how we should feel and act in certain situations. Along with these ideas, we have also created ideas that certain feelings or emotions are bad. These expectations and ideas do not create a safe space for us to share or express our feelings. Instead they may make us feel bad for feeling what we feel, and they may make people hide and bury their emotions by not sharing them.
When we don’t acknowledge our feelings or if we bury them, we don’t allow ourselves the space to fully feel. Recently, I was having a conversation with my husband about our son, and I said something during that conversation that right away made me feel guilty. Yuck! That does not always feel great. Instead of getting mad at myself for feeling guilty, I said to my husband “right when I said that I immediately felt guilt.” Naming it helped. Not pushing it away helped. Working to try and understand where the guilt came from helped. I didn’t push it away and try to bury it. I accepted the feeling for what it was, and I felt it. Yes, it didn’t feel that awesome, but accepting it allowed me to move on from it by processing it and then it didn’t linger with me the rest of the night.
As you may know we often don’t have a lot of control over our initial reaction to a situation. We may cry, laugh, or perhaps remain neutral. What we do have control over is how we allow ourselves to accept our feelings. Did you get mad? Did you feel guilty? Were you super happy? No matter what the feeling, allow yourself to feel that feeling. Learn where it is comes from.
I believe we must allow ourselves the chance to truly feel our emotions and accept them for what they are before we can move on. Accepting something is happening is the first step to action. If we do not accept that we have a certain feeling, we stand no chance in understanding its impact or gaining insight into why a situation evoked that specific emotion. Accepting our feelings for what they are allows us a chance to learn and to grow as people and with others.
In all honestly, this is way easier said than done, right? Since most of us have been taught to feel a certain way at certain times, and to hide emotions at certain times, it is not an easy switch to change up something we have been doing for most of our lives. However, we have to start somewhere, so my challenge to you is the next time you find yourself with a big feeling that might not feel that great, notice it, acknowledge it, accept it. See how this process makes you feel, and how it affects the situation and your emotions.
Katie Oberton provides individual therapy that combines mindfulness techniques with traditional talk therapy to enhance the mind-body connection. Katie works from a client-centered perspective, keeping social justice and empowerment at the forefront of her work.
Katie Oberton is no longer practicing at Wellness Minneapolis. To connect with her please visit her website.