Many of us were raised to resist our feelings (don’t be angry, don’t cry, don’t be so wild, etc). We do most anything to not feel: we eat, do drugs, drink, exercise, work, text, play computer games, and in doing all of this doing, we fight reality. When we resist feeling, we block reality, and this leads to a pattern of fighting that distances us from a sense of peace and contentment and ability to be present in the here and now. We live according to the belief that I have to resist or fight in order get what I want and feel good. The problem with this solution is that it becomes the problem and we get stuck in a pattern of fight and resistance. We resist what is because it doesn’t feel good, and we think that is the solution to not feeling good. This solution leads us into a cycle of fight that is difficult to get out of and the solution thus becomes the problem.
Fighting our feelings actually gets issues stuck in our system because the body needs to fully process our feelings. When we resist, a block forms that will continue to trigger us in the future until we fully feel the emotions related to that issue. When we allow the sensations of the feelings and fully feel them in our body, we accept reality, then the block will be released and we can relax. Feeling emotions does not mean acting out, blowing steam or yelling at others. It means observing what is happening in the body and being with the sensations involved.
Fighting our feelings keeps us distant from knowing what we need, which is critical in reducing tension in relationships. If I don’t know what I feel, I don’t know what I need, then I cannot express it. But my behaviors and responses will indicate there is an unmet need. I fight to have needs met even if I am not aware of it. This is what is occurring when we stuff feelings at work and then come home and “kick the dog,” or some other helpless being. If we resist our feelings eventually they will blow, or we’ll get sick or depressed—somehow the body will let us know there are unmet needs. Feeling feelings means I am listening to the messages of the body to decipher those needs.
Feelings inform us of unmet needs—as Marshall Rosenberg (2003) says, if one is angry, there is an unmet need. When we are afraid, we are unsafe, and we all have the need to be safe. If we are depressed, there is an unmet need. When we don’t know what our need is (and we all have basic needs of sustenance, safety, love, rest, play/creativity, community, autonomy and purpose), but it is unmet, we typically get triggered and then respond with fight, flight or immobility—which is not healthy for relationships. Our bodies fight to get needs met whether we are consciously aware or not. So it benefits our relationships to spend time knowing what our needs are, so we don’t damage relationships by acting out (either aggressively or passive aggressively)—which is what occurs when we are not conscious of the need.
The only way to figure out my needs is to feel my feelings; to allow what is there. If I know what I need then I can make a request. Often I hear people say, “well my partner should know what I need.” This is a child stance. Yes, our parents should have known what we needed as children, but often they were so wrapped up in their own stuff that they weren’t present enough to fulfill our needs. So we are wounded by that and then expect our partners to finally fill those unmet needs. But that is an unreasonable expectation. When we depend on a partner to fill us up, then we are stuck in a pattern of need and an expectation that our needs be met by others and we are forever in the pattern of needing others to fill us up. That is a pattern created by unfulfilled child’s need.
When we get needs met as a child, a pattern of safety and “there is enough” is established (see article “Achieving Personal Power”). We can fill up when we heal the wound and nurture ourselves with what we never got (CLEAR is very helpful in healing this wound: https://www.changeworksinc.com/clear.html). It is our responsibility in a mature relationship to be with ourselves, understand and then communicate what we need; and it is helpful to our relationships if we make a request and find a way to get the need met if the partner cannot or will not.
Feel what happens in your body when you resist something. Muscles tense and breathing slows or stops. Then sense what happens when you “allow” something—you are much more relaxed. Tension is a result of resistance. Resistance to what is won’t bring us peace. Practice allowing by bringing something you don’t like (start with something easy like liver, not your mother-in-law) into your field. Bring it closer and closer while allowing it to be there, being relaxed and observing your response. Stop if you start to get tense and just allow the tension until it passes. Eventually see if you can bring it into your heart without resistance. Mindfulness (or “mindsight” as Daniel Siegel, 2013, calls it) is a great practice for being with what is in ourselves.
Try being with what is. You can do this anywhere: walking, doing the dishes, taking a shower or meditating. Be an observer of yourself by adopting a curious attitude. It is easier to be with our emotions if we can drop the story that goes along with them (such as, I don’t want to feel this way; I don’t like this feeling) and be with the sensations in the body. The story comes from childhood, which was difficult, but now, those feelings are really just sensations stored in the body that prevent you from being present. If we can be with them we free up the stored emotions and can be in the here and now. Ask, “what is occurring in my body?” Observe the sensations in your body (tension? Butterflies? Nausea? Nothing? Fast heartbeat?). Just let them be there. Let go, don’t resist, allow. Focus your attention on your body. If you find yourself thinking, then observe the thinking. Sometimes it helps to say, “Just stop,” and let what is be there. Usually when the body (not the mind) has fully processed the sensations, an insight will occur. Practice this daily, and it will become easier. It is a skill you are developing—it is a new coping mechanism, a new neural pathway—rather than fighting, you are present with what is. It is much easier to see solutions when we stop resisting and allow the full reality of what is (or was) be present.
If you find being with your feelings difficult, there is probably something to CLEAR.
There are many beliefs developed in childhood that can influence this need to fight to have happiness (see below). It is helpful to clear these beliefs and issues so acceptance becomes easier (see https://www.changeworksinc.com/tryclear.html).
Accepting Reality blocking beliefs
- I can’t accept reality.
- I can’t handle reality.
- I refuse to accept life as it is.
- I want life to be different than it is.
- The pain will kill me or I will kill myself so I don’t have to feel the pain.
- I was destroyed.
- I am small and can’t handle what is happening.
- The pain is bigger than me.
- If I’m vulnerable I’ll be annihilated.
- The pain will destroy me.
- I can’t handle the feelings; I don’t want the feelings.
- If I get their love (attention, affection, etc) then I’ll feel better.
- I’ll do anything to get rid of the pain.
- I can’t cope with life’s difficulties.
- It’s too much.
- I need to make something happen; accepting reality is not going to make anything happen.
- There’s a happy ending in the future if I can just find the right thing to do/the right person to be with.
- Nothing will change if I accept what is (and I can’t stand the way things are).
- Something is wrong if I’m not happy.
- I need to make it different.
- I have to fix what is wrong (I can’t accept it).
• I need to make/force things to change.
- If I accept what is, it is a place of weakness, it is not strong; I’ll be in danger.
- It means I won’t be in control.
- I will have no defenses.
- I won’t know what is going on if I don’t judge and think about what is going on in this moment; if I don’t continuously interpret what is happening.
- If I accept what is, I won’t be safe; I’ll be confused.
- I need to think about things in order to understand and relate to them.
- I will become ignorant and be at the mercy of everyone.
- I will become stuck in the moment for the rest of my life.
- I will be stuck in the misery of what I feel right now if I accept it/allow it.
- I have to fight it to get out of it; to get what I want.
- I want things to stay the same; don’t want this to end.
- If things change I won’t be happy/secure/safe.
- I need to be in my head to be present/smart/protect myself/understand reality.
- If I am in my body, I’ll be weak/vulnerable/dumb/unsafe/unloved.
- It’s okay for others to disagree with me.
Feelings Blocking Beliefs
- It’s not okay to feel my feelings (fear/love/sadness/pain).
- It’s not okay to have emotions.
- I’ll be a wimp if I cry.
- It’s not okay to cry.
- I’ll be a wimp if I have emotions.
- Others will humiliate me if I have feelings.
- It’s not okay to feel.
- I can’t feel.
- I can’t be a good man and feel my feelings.
- I’ll lose control if I feel my feelings.
- It’s not safe to feel my feelings.
- I don’t want to feel my feelings.
- I’ll be seen as weak if I have my feelings.
- I have to be strong.
- I can’t be vulnerable and be strong.
- I won’t be seen as strong if I am vulnerable or if I cry.
- I should be the one in control.
- If I have my emotions, I am not in control.
- If I have my feelings I won’t be happy/feel good.
- They will take me over.
- If I start feeling them I’ll be overwhelmed and I’ll never stop.
- If I have my feelings, something is wrong with me.
- I have to make good feelings happen.
- If I feel bad, I’m not trying hard enough.
- If I feel bad, I’m not strong enough.
- I have to fight my feelings.
Rosenberg, Marshall. Nonviolent Communication, Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press 2003
Siegel, Daniel, Brainstorm, the Power & Purpose of the Teenage Brain, New York: The Penguin Group 2013
Julie Roberts, Ph.D.
Julie Roberts lives in Pennsylvania one hour west of Philadelphia. She consults with groups, individuals and children to help them move into their full potential. She specializes in personal and professional change so individuals overcome obstacles to productivity. She utilizes energy psychology, muscle testing, counseling, and Family Constellation work to help individuals clear the blocks in their life. She conducts workshops that improve leadership skills, teaches CLEAR®, and guides individuals through a healing change process. She has taught CLEAR in Russia and Nigeria and she is certified by the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP).