The Trap of Wanting to Feel Good
“Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions.” ~ David Boorstein
Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good; who wouldn’t rather feel happy than sad, loving rather than angry, peaceful rather than anxious and confident rather than afraid? The problem is that when you do feel your “negative” emotions such as anger, fear or sadness; you may tend to do the opposite of what you need to to actually get rid of them and you end up locking them in place!
One reason for this is that we don’t appreciate what emotions really are.
We think they should be rational…
We think they should go away because our minds want them to….
We think that if we don’t pay attention to them they’ll go away….
They usually don’t!
Emotions are not generated from your rational mind. They arise from a primitive part of the nervous system in response to your environment. When your nervous system perceives something to “feel” sad, angry, afraid, or happy about; it sends signals to your conscious mind and to your body also. Every emotion generates physical changes in every tissue of the body. There is something like a “charge” that we feel in our bodies when we’re in touch with our feelings.
Even when you don’t feel this charge, it is still happening in your body! Just because you don’t want a particular feeling, doesn’t mean it stops being evoked in your nervous system, your tissues and our unconscious mind! It’s like the sun on a cloudy day….just because there is a veil of clouds that disconnects us from its rays….it’s still up there generating all that sunshine with all the same energy and heat!
The minute you try to not feel what you’re feeling, you create trouble in your psyche and in your body. All that energy has to be held somewhere.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, I actually think of emotions as very much like water. Once a stream of water is flowing, you can’t just make it disappear. The only way to stop it is to dam it. You could build a dam to hold the flow back but since the stream still exists and more water keeps coming into the growing reservoir, pressure builds behind the dam over time.
So when you stop the charge of your emotions from flowing you actually create a dam which builds up pressure. Over time this is tremendously stressful on your body and can lead to physical as well as emotional dis-ease.
Have you ever had the experience of being irritated by something that over the course of a day has built to the point where you explode with anger or impatience at something or someone who doesn’t deserve it? Or if you don’t express it, you may feel the tension that has built in your shoulders, neck and jaw, or the knot in your stomach that may get bad enough to send you to the medicine cabinet for antacids, and sleeping pills to help you “let go” enough to sleep. All that anger is still in there.
During bodywork sessions, many people I work with experience a rising of emotions they weren’t aware of feeling before. By relaxing the tension, or “armoring” in their muscles through movement or massage, the charge that has been held in their body begins to flow. I gently encourage them to express whatever the feeling is, through tears, speaking unsaid words, giving the feeling an expressive movement like the shaking of a fist or stomping of a foot, or simply breathing and feeling. Many people are surprised to learn that allowing the feeling does not carry the dire consequence of being swept away by a flood. They feel more open, calm and energized and able to be more present as they go back into their lives. We are actually stronger when we let the feeling be!
The important thing to know is that emotions, like water, when allowed to flow will find their way to stillness and peace. The rushing rivers created by the melting snow on the mountain tops, will eventually spread out and seep peacefully into the delta, or disperse into the sea. Every wave, once it is allowed to crest, will recede. Have you ever felt the calm and clarity that comes after a good cry? Or the revival of energy that comes after expressing something you were afraid to say? Or the lightening of your mood after a pounding work out when you’re angry?
When you allow your emotion to move and flow, you can get to the other side where more balance and freedom are found.
So what does it look like to let your emotions flow and release? It may include expressing them to someone else, but it doesn’t have to. It’s most important that you allow the charge to move through your own body in some way. See my bodymind health tip of the month in this newsletter (link) for ideas about how to
provide the space and movement that emotions need to flow and eventually (if not immediately) release.
This approach is meant for our daily emotional experiences. When dealing with old emotions, hurts or traumas in particular, it is important to work with a trained therapist who can guide you in the more complex process of becoming free from their grip. If you have a history of trauma, are concerned about feeling overwhelmed or if when trying this approach you encounter strong emotions that feel difficult, seek professional assistance.
For most of you, the gentle practice of allowing your day-to-day and moment-to -moment emotions to flow though your body as they appear can help both your body and mind remain clear and balanced.
I wish for you during this time of “joy” and “peace”, the true peace that is found right behind the wave of whatever you are truly feeling.