Learning to Feel Feelings isn’t Always Easy by Lynn C. TolsonBy
This week I am pleased to have Lynn Tolson guest posting here on Emerging from Broken. Many of you know Lynn; she is a frequent commenter and contributor to the conversations here in EFB. Lynn is an advocate and the author of “Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story” ~ Please help me welcome Lynn and as always, please share your thoughts in the comments section.
Learning to feel feelings Isn’t Always Easy by Lynn C. Tolson
In therapy, clients talk about their feelings. Therapists ask, “How are you feeling today?” Conversations with my therapist(s) frequently sounded like this:
“I don’t know.”
“You must be feeling something.”
“Please, tell me what it feels like.”
“I don’t know.”
I shrugged my shoulders, which was not an acceptable answer to the question of “how are you feeling.” How should I know? I had no clue, no compass, and no map to lead me through the hot and sweaty tropical jungle of twisted emotional thorny vines that lay strangled with family secrets and lies.
My step-father had taught me to deny my feelings at seven years old. He said, “Whenever someone asks you how you are doing, you say, ‘Fine, thank you,’ no matter what.” He added, “Speak only when you are spoken to.” He raised me under his spell of “children should be seen and not heard.” These powerful childrearing dictates led to the cold, calculating climate of control that froze all feelings into a block of ice that could only be released when talk-therapy chipped at the surface decades later.
What I felt was numb, which is a suppression of real feelings. Talking about my experiences and emotions in therapy years later did not feel good. If/when I felt, I felt crappy. Even in the company of a therapist I sensed I was safe with, one whom I trusted and developed rapport with, I dared not enter the realm of emotion. I was afraid to unlock my heart and uncover emotions. If I felt a bona fide feeling, I would surely go insane.
I felt all alone. Loneliness envelopes my being, seals me in a tomb lacking air. I am trapped in the darkness of my heart, all alone, Choking and grasping to find tender loving care.
With that admission of feeling in the form of prose, my therapist taught me that putting words to experiences and the emotions they carry can dispel the hold they had on me. She said, “As your fears recede, courage will emerge. Love was locked inside, shielded by fear. When the darkness of fear disappears, the light of love appears. You built walls around yourself to block out bad feelings, so you also blocked out any good that could come your way. You perpetuate pain by locking up feelings.”
My therapist explained that the depression used to cover up emotions can become a permanent part of the personality. She said, “The symptoms of anxiety and depression you experience are not personality flaws but the consequence of childhood wounds. When you excavate and explore emotions, you allow the fear to fade.” Digging deep like this may alleviate the depression, and allow room for expansion of joyful feelings.
I also had to accept that emotions are transitory, universal, and can co-exist. I had to trust that feeling would not drive me crazy. I learned that feeling could lead to positive emotions, especially L-O-V-E. I understood that in my head, but I needed to feel it in my heart. Transformation from fear to love requires more than rationalization and intellectualization. Healing transpires from fully feeling emotions, and then taking necessary action, like this: determine the cause of an emotion, identify the feeling, and acknowledge its presence. Honor an emotion in the moment; just be with it, and that is more like going sane.
My therapist and I started with where I was at: scared to death of the world at large. There was a pervasive apprehension that cast an ominous shadow on my world. Slowly, we examined the fear to make it manageable. With each exhale of fear, I could inhale the courage to face my fears, feeling compassion for myself and others. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” That is how we learn how to feel.
Contributed by Lynn C. Tolson, advocate and author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story
Lynn C. Tolson
Please visit Lynn C. Tolson’s blog at http://beyondthetears.blogspot.com/
Bio: After her first eighteen years in the Northeast, Lynn Tolson moved to the Southwest where she engaged in careers in real estate and property management. During those years, she survived post-traumatic stress disorder, which manifested in addictions and suicide attempts. Through the therapeutic process, she determined the causes of her dysfunction, which included childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence. Ultimately, she was able to achieve a life that reflects health and happiness. Her memoir, “Beyond the Tears: A true Survivor’s Story” illustrates physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation; her story offers a message of hope. Tolson moved to the Midwest where she returned to college to obtain a degree in social work. She has also overcome breast cancer. She resides in the Rocky Mountains where she works as an artist, author, and advocate