We sometimes experience difficult feelings such as anger, fear, panic, or powerlessness as dangerous, unsettling, embarrassing, inconvenient, untrustworthy, and confusing. However, we often don’t understand these feelings or know what to do with them.

We often say negative things to ourselves, such as I hate feeling this way; I don’t have time for this; I shouldn’t feel this way; there’s really nothing wrong in my life; or, I should be over this by now. We may try to cope with our feelings by distracting ourselves from what’s happening inside, through drinking, overeating, taking drugs, gambling, viewing pornography, watching excessive TV, or staying unreasonably busy. All these actions are attempts to tune out, numb, or disconnect from our feelings.

The very way in which we relate to our feelings and what we do with them, can worsen or improve them, leaving us feeling bitter or better. When we dismiss, suppress, or ignore our feelings, they turn into depression, anxiety, and stress, but if we accept and work through our feelings, then we have a better result.

The first step in working with difficult feelings is to let ourselves experience them and not be afraid of them. Since we can’t heal what we can’t feel, we must connect with and acknowledge what takes place inside ourselves. We must befriend our feelings rather than push them away and we must bring more understanding and tenderness to what we feel.

Take a minute to read the story below for an example of ways to work more skilfully with feelings and facilitate healing.

Four-year-old Suzie is playing on a chair, pushing herself off the kitchen table with her feet. This is risky, as the chair may become stuck in the tile grooves and fall. Mom warns her not to play like that but, like any normal four-year-old, Suzie doesn’t perceive any danger. Sure enough, her chair becomes stuck in the groove and she goes flying back, hitting her head on the floor. Mom’s response to Suzie’s feelings will affect how Suzie chooses to deal with her own feelings later on. Mom can say, “I told you not to play like that. It’s your fault that you hurt yourself. That will teach you a lesson. Now stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” or she can hold Suzie, comfort her and say, “It’s okay, it’s over now. Tell me, are you crying because your head is hurting or because you are afraid? You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’m here.”

In this story, mom’s first reaction teaches Suzie that her feelings are weak and a nuisance, whereas her second response shows Suzie that her feelings are okay, that she is not wrong or bad for feeling the way she does, and someone will be there to comfort her when she is in pain. In turn, these lessons will influence how Suzie deals with her own feelings as she is growing up and they will shape her interactions into adulthood.As adults, it’s our job to attend to our own feelings in a way that will be supportive, caring, and healing, in the same nurturing way that a parent might tend to their child’s feelings. Our first response in caring for ourselves is to give importance to our feelings. Then others will follow our lead and treat us the way we treat ourselves.

By staying in touch with our feelings, we weaken the power they have over us and we disarm them by not running away from ourselves. Try listening to yourself. What is it that you really need from yourself when you feel this way? Learn to accept what you feel, and suspend your judgments. Take deep breaths as you give yourself permission to experience everything you feel.

Claire Maisonneuve, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Alpine Anxiety & Stress Relief Clinic
Claire Maisonneuve is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and long-time director of the Alpine Anxiety & Stress Relief Clinic. She uses a unique mind/body approach in her treatment of anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic pain. Call or visit her website for free tools to begin your healing and for more details about her unique mind/body approach to counselling at 604-732-3930 or www.AnxietyAndStressRelief.com.
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 170 – 2009