Most of us aren’t taught how to cope with our emotions and experiences in a way that allows us to thrive. And while I know that up until this point keeping your barriers up may have been the only possibility available to you, I would love to offer you another way- a way that allows you to honor your full range of experiences, and to honor the tenderness and depth of your sensitivity without having to cut yourself off or turn to old habits that don’t support you.
One of the core pieces of the embodiment work we do around here, a key to really experiencing bliss in your body and presence in each moment, is the willingness and practice of feeling all of your feelings- the physical sensations, the stories that create the emotions, and the subsequent reactions and responses in our lives.
The more we are able to feel, the more we are able to experience the full range of life and possibilities. That’s why I encourage the regular practice of connecting to and feeling everything you are experiencing in any given moment.
But what happens when you would honestly rather just not feel? When the idea of numbing out and shutting down is far more appealing than being present with the discomfort of your experience?
First I’m going to share with you why shutting down is the default for so many, then share with you how to navigate that urge and how to continue to open and be in service of yourself throughout whatever it is you are going through, so that when the desire to numb out hits you full force, you’ll have the tools you need to remain connected to your body and yourself.
Why we shut down and numb out
There are a few reasons why we shove aside our feelings and experiences in exchange for not feeling. Mainly, because a lot of times in the moment it just feels easier than dealing with feeling uncomfortable. But here’s WHY it feels easier:
Evolutionarily, our bodies and brains are primed first and foremost for survival. When we go into feelings of fear, resistance, grief, worry, anxiety, or anything that could be considered a threat to our survival, our bodies automatically go into survival mode. What that looks like chemically is either adrenaline gets pumped into your system, flooding you with hyper alertness and suppressing whatever is perceived as a threat, or if what you are feeling is too intense or traumatic for your brain and body to safely process, it also gets suppressed and the brain will focus on anything else it can so you don’t have to feel it.
A lot of this suppression is simply a habit cultivated as you grow up and is reinforced by society. While your 6 year old self, for example, may not have understood the anger or fear she was feeling or was in a situation where it wasn’t safe to express it, she learned to hide it and suppress it. And while your adult self may understand how to feel and process emotions, there is still a pattern in your cells that signals for the suppression of those feelings based on your younger self. Your brain and body are hard wired to protect you- and whatever you learned as a kid is likely how you continue to react when uncomfortable emotions show up.
And then there is the fact that really intense emotions can create uncomfortable physical sensations in our bodies. If you weren’t ever taught how to interact with that intensity, and honestly most of us weren’t, it is perceived as a threat and your brain is signaled to seek distraction.
Why it’s important to fully feel your feelings (and what can happen when you begin this process)
So why not just give in to distraction? Why not just continue to numb out? Well, that’s always an option. And sometimes that can be exactly what we need. However, if what you desire is a life of aliveness, a life of feeling fulfilled and at home in yourself, then eventually you will have to feel your feelings. And the longer you wait and put it off, the more drawn out any suffering or discomfort might be.
Emotions and feelings that are not fully processed and released will either end up stored in your body or your energy field, and will start to build up over time. As these emotional storage areas get built up, a couple of things can happen. Sometimes, the emotions show up as physical weight on your body. That can mean numbers going up on the scale, or a feeling of heaviness in your body.
Another thing that can happen is, say for example you have a history of stuffing down anger or trying to convince yourself you aren’t upset even when you are. That anger gets stuffed down and stored- and then every time anger shows up in your life, all those other anger molecules get activated and it can feel like there is an endless wellspring of anger that’s about to explode out of you.
Tension, illness, indigestion, fatigue- these can all be results of unexpressed feelings.
At some point, everything that has been stored will come forward to be felt and released. This doesn’t mean all of those situations will be re-lived, but it does mean that in some way your stored emotions, traumas, and feelings will surface in some way.
About three months ago my current romantic relationship was very new. Weeks old. And I was already deeply in love. One morning I woke up feeling super out of sorts and sad, like my heart was breaking. I didn’t understand it- everything was going so well. So why was I feeling deep levels of grief, sadness, and physical pain in my heart?
After sitting with this for awhile and allowing the feelings to surface and move through my body (rather than shut them down), a bunch of memories from past relationships rose to the surface- memories I had forgotten or set aside, all from the period of my life right before I decided it was too hard to love and that I would be better off without it.
Now that I was in a place of desiring to open my heart fully, the heartbreak I had shoved aside and chosen not to feel was coming to the surface to be released. I had a couple of options- continue to shut it down, feel it a little, or feel it fully.
It took about three days to ride out all the waves of grief and pain that rose up. So many tears, so much tension and discomfort. But on the other side of it? Space. Space to love. Space to show up fully. Space to choose this new relationship and my new way of being.
Why feel your feelings? Because we can’t pick and choose which feelings we want to experience. If you want to feel deep happiness or delight or ecstasy or love, sometimes you also are going to feel the darker sides of humanity.
What’s cool about this is once you are in the practice, and once residual emotions have come up and cleared out, you can process your feelings and emotions in real time. That way you feel what you need to feel, express it, and then it’s done. No more gnawing guilt or suppressed anger. It comes up then goes out, and you have space to be present and choose your experience from there.
How to practice feeling and being present in all of your experiences
The first step to feeling your emotions in real time is to recognize what you are feeling. If you have a habit of getting foggy when you feel fear or immediately flip to gratitude when you are angry or suppress your emotions in any way, your first step is to allow yourself to acknowledge what you are feeling.
Next, take a pause. Whatever is happening, wherever your brain wants to go, whatever distraction you want to reach for- pause. Deep breath. Inhale and exhale.
Notice what is happening in your body. Are you tensing? Clenching? Curling inward? What reaction is your body having to your emotions?
As you continue to breathe, allow those sensations to be in your body. Let the air you breathe in fill up your entire being. If you are feeling any sort of paralysis, or if even if it just feels good, move your body a little bit. Widen your chest, move your shoulders, soften your belly.
Notice where and when your mind wants to take over and explain away, bypass, attach a story, or judge the feeling. See if you can continue to allow the physical sensations to move through your body.
Some great practices for expressing and releasing feelings include:
Put your feet in the earth. If you are feeling a lot of intense sensations, stick your toes in the dirt or the grass. Imagine those waves of anger, grief, worry- whatever it is you are feeling- flowing out through your feet and down into the ground. The earth will receive that energy and transform it into something useful.
Shower, bath, ocean– get into some water. Let the water carry your feelings off your skin and down the drain or out to sea. Similar to the earth, the water can cleanse and purify any negativity, stuck ness, or discomfort. It is the ultimate source of renewal and rebirth.
The root of most feelings is beyond the words we use to try and describe them. At some point the stories fall way and the sounds of the feelings can come out as tones, yells, screams, and pure noise. Sound can reorganize our molecules, and expressing out loud, whether it is coherent or logical or not, is a great way to express and release anything that is pent up.
Sometimes it’s a combination of things. 18 months ago when I was in Bali, I had a really intense healing session that brought up a lot of anger from my childhood that I had repressed. After the session, I went down to the ocean, walked in up to my chest, put my hands out into the water and yelled and screamed and cried until I felt completely emptied out. I let the ocean have it. I think about the memories and times that triggered that anger now and there are no charges around them. The anger is completely gone. And so is the pain in my shoulder that was holding onto it for me for years.