Committing our selves to making room to safely feel all of our feelings, no matter how "extreme, unreasonable, immature, not like our selves" we or others may think they are.
Making Room for Feelings
It's important to let your self make room for you to feel
whatever you're feeling… Particularly when your own mind,
or anyone else, thinks what you're feeling is unreasonable,
extreme, immature, ridiculous, silly or "not like you!"
I grew up with a mother who consistently invalidated and ridiculed my feelings. One of her favorite messages was "you're always making such a big deal out of nothing!" Others were "you've got nothing to cry/be so depressed about!" and, "if you don't stop that, I'll really give you something to cry/be depressed about!" Or, she'd tell me to "Stop with the Miss Sarah Heartburn, already!" Implying (with this parody of Sarah Bernhardt's name) that I was being overly dramatic. Not a wonder that I learned to be critical of the intensity of my feelings and to stuff or hide them as best as I could from the outside world or even, at times, from my self. This early conditioning from my mother was reinforced by messages from our emotion-phobic culture that devalues all strong feelings (with the exception perhaps of men's anger and occasionally, over-idealized romantic love).
At times, my sadness and grief were so overwhelming I'd feel as though I could die from the pain. Other times I wished that I would die rather than have to go on suffering so much. I wished I could be less sensitive so that I could live more comfortably in the world. Nevertheless, I usually made space for my self to feel my despair, no matter how extreme it might seem.
On the other hand, until my mother's death when I was 30, anger was not a part of my emotional repertoire. Devastated by my mother's sarcastic anger toward me, I couldn't imagine feeling or acting in such terrifying and hurtful ways toward another human being. The closest I'd come to experiencing or expressing anger would be screaming my hate into my pillow after some particularly mind-twisting interchange with my mother.
When someone was undermining me or being gratuitously nasty to me (as she had so often been) I would feel hurt rather than angry. I'd turn my energy to figuring out what damage or sense of personal inadequacy in the other person underlay their behavior toward me. (Just as I had tried for so many years with my mother.) Deciphering their motivation would defuse in me what might otherwise have blossomed into anger. It felt safer to understand the why of a person's meanness than it did to feel even the slightest indignation toward them.
This focus produced in me a substantial capacity for tolerance and patience with people who were treating me badly. I typically missed reading (on a conscious level) the hostility in the energies that were being directed toward me. Instead, I'd be likely to come away from the interactions feeling vaguely anxious or crabby, without a clue about what had provoked those feelings. Some hours later, if sharing a meal had been part of the interaction, I'd wind up sick to my stomach. Only vomiting up all the still-totally-undigested contents of my stomach would reduce the searing pain in my gut.
My mother's death freed me to begin to become consciously aware of the depth of my anger with her and her treatment of me. Yet, it wasn't till my mid-forties that I learned I could feel and release anger in ways that would be safe; that I wouldn't have to fear that experiencing/expressing such emotions could demolish someone in the ways I'd felt demolished by my mother's rage.
Learning to separate the energy of my anger from the content of the behavior/circumstances by which it had been triggered was a major first step. Finding safe, effective ways then to move and release that energy – by my self, in private, not on someone – was both a scary and a remarkable process. Yelling, cursing, stomping, kicking at pillows and pounding on my bed were terrifying and at the same time thrilling.
After each time I'd feel and release the energy of my anger, I'd find words and ways to calmly and effectively communicate what I was angry about, what was unacceptable to me. With safe ways to be with my anger and my rage when they arose, I was able to risk becoming consciously aware of those emotions in the situations that provoked them. While I've continued to be curious about what leads people to be mean or nasty toward me, I now can also feel the hostility in their behavior. I can feel my own anger rising and choose to be with it. When I share about it, even when the other person thinks I'm being unreasonable or too sensitive, I now have my own permission to feel and express just exactly what's so for me. (See Safe Space to Scream and Safe for Feelings, as well as the later parts of Coming Home for more details about this.)
As I've become more accepting of and comfortable with my own rage and anger a very strange thing has happened. There are moments when, alone with my self and in response to the most inconsequential seeming incidents, I erupt into towering rage. Coming in from a peaceful night of sleeping in my womb-tent, I might spill some water, stub my toe or drop something and suddenly find my self wild with rage: cursing, roaring and slamming around my little sanctuary. Most often I'm screaming "I can't take this anymore!" Or, "I can't stand this!" Or, "I hate this!" Or, "Stop it, stop it, stop it!" Or, "Leave her alone!"
The ferocity astonishes me. Yet, I am no longer frightened by these episodes. I know that making space to let them just play through me is important. I know that these eruptions end as abruptly as they've begun. I know how to blow without harming my self physically. And, since I told them about this propensity of mine when we first began sharing the space with each other, my neighbors on the property know that there's nothing to worry about when they hear me storming.
Sometimes, there is a tiny background voice that reverberates with the old critical, stopper messages about how ridiculous, extreme and not like me these outbursts are. Yet, the stronger witness/Mommy voice inside fiercely defends and holds the space for me to have them. There is an inner knowing that these experiences are essential to my healing process.
There's rarely any content or context to these flare-ups. No memories rise; no images of what this might be about. I know it's pointless to try to figure out any whys for these episodes. They are long bottled up and fermented unexpressed rage that it is, in this moment, finally safe to release. After each such outpouring, I feel exhausted and cleansed, complete for the moment, more spacious inside my self.
Recently, after I'd had several days of draining rages over thwarting problems with my computer, I was feeling a need for lots of rest. On the way into a non-work/unscheduled week in which I hoped to have the room for that kind of stillness, my Feldenkrais healer and I did some powerful releasing work on my stomach area. We were addressing the sporadic stomach pain/pressure that results in my needing to vomit out swallowed toxicity.
As my resting week began, each day was filled with lolling about reading and napping my way through the hours till it was cool enough to take a long walk. For some brief part of that cooling time, I would also feel the urge to do a bit of something. Unfortunately, whatever little something I did seemed to lead me quickly into a raging uproar.
Each eruption was triggered by some frustration or feeling of being thwarted. One day it was no-see-ums that kept biting me while I was washing away a spider web disease from the trees and plants around the cottage. Another day it was knots that kept breaking or unraveling spilling beads all over the place as I was restringing several old bracelets that needed fixing. Another day it was the streaks left everywhere by the guaranteed non-streaking, biodegradable window cleaner I was using to clean all the windows I'd spotted with hard water as I'd washed the trees.
I went from placid to hysterical rage in seconds each time. The Mommy voice came immediately to talk tenderly to the distraught Little One. She soothingly reminded the Little One that when things go so badly and she gets so frustrated, the best thing to do is to stop whatever we're doing. She reminded the Little One that it's okay to leave it for another time or day when she might be feeling less raw.
Usually, the Little One feeling comforted, listens to the permission and stops. But, on these few awful days, no one inside me was willing to stop. The Little One wanted it done, now. So each day I responded to the irresistible push from inside, kept going and kept on screaming and tantruming. After a while I'd be done. With both the tasks and the exploding/falling apart. I'd calmly go back to reading and drowsing. I didn't bother wondering about it all. I just let it go. From past experiences, I know that if there is something I need to know about what's just been happening, it will – unbidden – reveal itself to me at some point.
On the day I was transitioning back into work-mode, it occurred to me that, in this intense succession of days, the old rage, grief, frustration that I'd been releasing had been a layer that had been locked in my body rather than my psyche. I suspected that the energy work on my stomach had loosened all this and freed it to find its way out. I felt pleased and amazed with all the work I'd just done.
Growing and healing inevitably involve upheavals of painful feelings, strong emotions that often seem out of proportion to what is currently happening. When there is such a disproportion, it's almost always because some earlier un-experienced/stuffed feelings are piggybacking out on the emotions that have been stirred in this situation. The psyche or the body is taking this opportunity to release what it hasn't been safe to feel before now.
It's often difficult to allow this process to take its natural course. We can feel crazy by the measure of our culture's yardstick of appropriateness. So, it's important to be gentle and care-full with our selves when this is happening. It's important to make room to feel all that wants to come up without judging it; without allowing others to judge it. It's important to provide safe, private space for moving through these times.
It helps to remind our selves that such times have a natural trajectory. At some point, all that can be released at this moment will have been released. We get to a more balanced place where we then have more of our selves available to us than ever before. We get to have the energy that had been holding all those feelings locked inside and to use it to go forward. We also have more open space inside of our selves for newness to come in.
Consider tenderly making safe space to feel whatever you're feeling.