In the busyness of our lives, it's fairly common for us to survive by "shaking off" or putting aside our feelings of sadness, grief, guilt or worry. We try to be "strong", pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, and trudge through. We "should" and "have to" ourselves. No doubt, it helps us to get the things we need to accomplish done, but what is the impact on our minds and bodies?
When people have experienced trauma and/or emotional abuse, they may often believe that allowing themselves to feel their emotional pain is a sign of weakness--that by feeling, they are letting their abuser have power of them. When human beings are in a position of helplessness of dependence and someone we count on is emotionally hurting us, it makes sense that we would try to survive by controlling the only thing we can--our feelings. "Oh yeah, well you're not even hurting me. I don't even care. Whatever". It's a resourceful strategy, but what is the cost?
The problem with these responses is that by denying or disowning our feelings, we cut off a big part of ourselves, we lose our "truth" and our compass.
Losing Ourselves, Our Truth and Our Compass
When we ignore, deny and disown our emotional pain, we are essentially ignoring, denying and disowning a part of ourselves. We are invalidating ourselves. Telling ourselves that we are "wrong" for having our feelings, or that our feelings aren't important. Here's the truth: They are. And when we acknowledge our feelings, validate them, we are more able to express them and proceed in our lives in a healthy way. When we ignore and deny our feelings, they are still there. They don't go away. But we lose our awareness of them. And ironically, they will then lead our lives--we will do anything to avoid them!
When we ignore our feelings, we lose our "truth" and our compass. Our feelings are there for a reason. When we experience anxiety, our brain and body is telling us that we are in danger. When we feel angry, it's likely our brain and body are telling us that someone has crossed one of our boundaries. When we feel sad, it's possible our bodies and minds are telling us that we've lost something we love or deeply wanted. When we ignore our feelings, we lose important information. We can begin to feel lost. We lose touch with why we feel a certain way, only becoming aware of "symptoms". We are also at greater risk of being harmed again, as the feelings and lessons we have learned are no longer there for us, and we find ourselves in similar relationships and situations again and maybe again. We may even be at a greater risk for harming others; when we cut off our feelings, we lose our ability to empathize, to feel with another person. If I don't have access to feelings of grief and cannot validate my own grief, how can I possibly imagine another's grief and respond to them in a validating way?
Disowned Emotions and Anxiety
Neuroscience tells us that the more emotions and conflicts we experience the greater anxiety we feel. Our Vagus nerve is responsible for receiving emotional information and sending messages to our bodies, specifically the heart, lungs and intestines. This triggers your brain and body's survival system. sending you into your "Fight, Flight or Freeze" response. When we ignore or disown our emotional pain, again, it is still there. It is still received and held in our bodies and our Vagus nerve. We will now feel anxiety, and not even know why.
What You Can Do
Create spaces and opportunities to practice feeling safe. This might mean finding ways to be less busy, to reduce demands, to improve stress management. It might also mean finding a therapist to help you feel safe with your emotions, to feel safe with yourself.
Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can support you to "find" yourself again. Yes, that may mean connecting with emotional pain that has been ignored, denied, disowned and yes, there will be an emotional cost as you reconnect with those unwanted feelings. It can feel uncomfortable! But the value of being able to accept your whole self with love and compassion--that, I believe you will find, is priceless.
Call today to schedule your first appointment! 856-281-1664