We’ve all been there. LIFE happens and we are taken out at the knees. Drowning in a sea of hurt feelings, confusion, loss of control, sadness or grief – to name a few. Without awareness or tools, we can swirl in turbulence for longer than we need to, feeling frustrated with no resolution, no clarity and feeling like we are going around in circles.
In sharing my own experiences of emotional tidal waves, I also offer Ten Empowering Lessons and Insights to gain new perspective and understanding in how we can use our emotions as powerful opportunities for learning, personal growth and freedom.
People often ask me “How are you so comfortable expressing your emotions?” (or why is it so easy for me) and the truth is it is NEVER easy. The one things I have that they may not is a faith that feeling my emotions is worth it.
I, like many people, use to see emotions as inconvenient, unpredictable, messy, weak-looking and hurtful. I would avoid the ‘bad’ ones at any cost.
Now, however, I know my emotions serve to free me in my life. Through full expression and release. Emotions show up to facilitate deep healing if I allow them too.
Sound simple? It is.
And it’s the hardest, most rewarding work we will ever do in this life.
The Time Life (and Death) Took Me Out
In the spring of 2008 and newly married, my husband and I learned we were expecting our first baby. Me, being a mother and nurturer to friends and family my whole life, was caught off guard by how scared I was at learning the news. I remember seeing the positive pee test sitting on the ledge of the tub, knees up to my chest, staring shellshocked at the dripping tap. The water cold and feeling like I was having an out of body experience watching my husband burst into joyful tears and laughter at the news.
He was me. And I was… terrified and baffled at my response.
Why am I so confused, I wondered. Where was the immediate joy? The happiness?
As time went on with some education about my new experience and patient support, I slowly began to relax into motherhood and eventually embraced it to the point of finally feeling excitement and wanting to plan. We waited the standard “safe zone” of 3 months and told our friends and family which was a celebration I will never forget. This was where the joy was! I was elated and ready for all of it.
The following morning I woke up to cramps, bleeding and realized I was miscarrying.
I struggle to articulate the physical and emotional chaos that transpired over the hours and days that followed. However, a flash of words and scenes play out in my mind… rug pulled out from under, a kick in the stomach, complete terror at what I was experiencing, raw survival, cruel awareness, bitter confusion, anger, answerless questions, the intimacy of shared pain and unpredictable tears that felt they would never end.
I lost total control — of my body, emotions, mind and my spirit. Up was down. Left was right.
Woven within this chaos, a thread existed that I clung to. It suggested in whispers that I would survive and could get through this… eventually.
On one particularly angry day, I called a friend who allowed me to share the conflicting emotions I was struggling with – one day feeling strong and ‘okay’ and the next on the floor with no hope of getting up. I was frustrated I wasn’t over it yet. Then hurt that I had a timeline on it all.
She told me point blank “You are in the grieving process, Keri-Anne.”
This stunned me. How could I be grieving something that never even existed? I thought.
I know it might seem obvious to anyone on the outside — but my mind convinced me of a story, that because I never saw the baby, “knew” the baby or felt the baby that it wasn’t real. That it wasn’t worthy of being grieved or even comparable to the loss of a real person. I created a cruel and unspoken rule in my head that denied my heart it’s own feelings and kept me from being exactly where I was, which was in the unpredictable sea of grief and loss.
I noticed how unwilling I was to be able to say I was grieving. My friend held firm and told me again. She offered me the insight that I was floating in all the layers and steps that come with the Grieving Process and reminded me that they are not linear. That it was normal to feel like I was bouncing around.
Permission to Feel = Empowerment
With permission to grieve, I felt relief and then strong in the awareness that I could be exactly where I was. I let go in that moment and allowed the first wave to crash. I cried new tears. Tears I had tried to convince myself weren’t valid. It was messy as hell. But it also felt strangely good at the same time. Full permission to release.
Once the initial surge dissipated, with the first full breath I had been able to take in weeks… this newfound perspective brought a window of clarity and an urge to support myself in navigating this messy and unpredictable process as best I could.
I felt compelled to grab my journal and start writing. I suddenly wanted to give a ‘voice’ to the many feelings trapped inside me that felt like they were arguing — like a boardroom of angry investors wanting to be heard and validated, each hoarse from trying to talk over the other. None of them any further ahead. Today was the day they would be seen and heard.
As I wrote, I identified at least three voices – a Bully, who wanted me to just ‘get over it already’, a Victim who wanted to cry 24/7 and feel it all without being told to stop; and a paralyzed Observer who watched wondering which one to side with or how to handle the situation.
I metaphorically ‘passed the microphone’ to each one giving them full permission to express what they were feeling. I promised each of them no interruptions or editing. They could be raw, honest and open. No judgement.
This is what came out of it all:
She is torn, baffled and feels useless watching the Bully and the Victim struggle back and forth.
If she sides with the bully this will harden my heart, shut me down emotionally forever to be cold and distant which would change ‘me’ on a fundamental level.
If she sides with the victim she fears being sucked down into the abyss of loss and grief never to return. That once she lets go, all will be lost and go down with the ship.
Looking and Feeling A Little Deeper: She is empathetic, understanding, kind, compassionate, and her intentions are to help and heal in the most loving way possible. She has NO idea what to do and paralyzed because she feels for them both and just wishes they could hear each other out.
She’s small and curled up in a ball – shifting from sadness to anger – one minute pathetic, whimpering in pain without energy and barely getting by, to totally enraged. She is slamming her fists into the ground demanding why?!! She wants answers, explanations and blame but gets nothing from anyone. She wishes she could hurt the person that made this happen, feeling rage having to go through all of this and not being able to shortcut around it. She doesn’t want to feel this.
She wants to get up off the floor but the hurt feels so bad that she succumbs to it and wallows in it. She’s too weak to get out of it feeling like she is condemned to stay until the feelings are gone. It’s like a prison sentence without knowing how long the sentence is for. Could be a day, could be a month or a year.… or worse, it could be house arrest — forever where she’s not in a cell but chained to the experience always feeling some element of it. Broken forever, no matter what she does. Will she be “that woman”, the one who cries when she sees pregnant women in the mall? Always hurting?
She seeks permission, unconditional love, validation, compassion, acceptance, understanding and comfort. She doesn’t want to be where she is but knows she can’t be anywhere else. Pretending feels worse as if it never happened and didn’t matter. In doing what she is doing, she is telling the truth. Even though it makes others uncomfortable.
Looking and Feeling A Little Deeper: She cries in protest, taking a stand in being on the floor. She wants it to matter. Declaring it happened, it hurts and she loves and loved deeply. Her tears honour the love lost, the experience robbed, the cruelty endured, the trauma experienced. I see her now as a warrior and feel her strength in her commitment and conviction to her own heart.
She starts out very loud and angry like a gang of voices demanding, persuading and trying to convince the Victim. Her presence feels intense, irrational and desperate.
“Get over it already… it’s over. You got through it. Don’t live in the past. It happened weeks ago… you went back to work! You are making this worse than it has to be.”
“Come on! Get off the floor and let’s get living… you’re holding us back and making it all about you, sulking in self pity…. It’s not like you are the first person to have ever gone through this. This is crazy.”
“Why are you doing this? It’s so common and normal for this to happen… one in four. This is normal! Don’t worry, you will be pregnant again in no time and all this crying will be a waste of time. You’ll look back and feel silly when you get pregnant again.”
Looking and Feeling A Little Deeper: Although scary and intense, when I look and feel deeper, this part of me hates seeing me hurt and represents all the parts of me that are positive, strong and confident. She knows who I am at my best and LOVES how I show up in the world (on a normal day). She feels powerless, frustrated, fearful and thinks her words are in some way going to motivate – not hurt more. She is desperate for me to feel normal again. I feel her deep love for me now and see she wants the best for me too. I had no idea.
Unexpected Learning from a Threesome I Never Wanted
On the other side of this exploration I noticed something else. The voices went quiet. There was a new sense of peace and calm that I had searched for so badly. I couldn’t believe that the peace had been achieved by simply letting them speak and hear each other out – there was nothing to do. No fixing, no advice, no negotiating.
Using this moment and continuing to deepen my own learning, I practice consciously FEELING my “stuff” whenever and however it shows up. Here is my learning to date.
Ten Lessons in Gaining Emotional Empowerment
- Emotions just want to be felt, heard and released. Nothing to do or fix. It’s emotional clutter in our body that we don’t need to carry around anymore. Each reaction or emotional wave becomes the latest layer that is ready to be let go of and healed. Just by feeling it. Like John Coffee in The Green Mile, open up your mouth and release the poison that keeps you feeling heavy. This is letting go, in action.
- Emotions are like little kids in a bear suit. They show up with sharp teeth, gnashing jaws and yes, you may feel as if they want to eat you alive. If you are willing to lean in with a little more courage to look and feel a little deeper, you’ll discover the intention behind it is much like the heart of an innocent child acting out – wanting to be seen, heard and frankly saved from having to wear the suit to get your attention in the first place. They are dying to take the suit off. It’s heavy and way too hot in there. Take a minute to get a sense of the intention behind it. Is the fear trying to protect you? That was created when you were in fact very small. What does it need to hear? If it were that little kid, maybe it just wants to make sure you don’t get hurt again. Consider giving it a voice and find out what it needs and wants.
- Listening builds trust in our self. When you have the endurance, patience and courage to stick with them, these untamed beasts eventually calm down and speak more rationally after the first punches are thrown. They begin to realize (and trust) you are really going to stick around to hear them this time. Whether you know it or not, this builds trust within yourself and with yourself. It is subtle in the moment but the lasting effects are palpable. Once you begin to do this, more emotions will show up wanting your attention too. Word spreads quick in there.
- Writing Heals. “Writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits” as beautifully explained in Arts.Mic’s recent article. As much as some of my clients groan when I suggest it, this powerful form of self expression shows me time and again how undeniably healing and self supporting it can be in our personal growth. Not everyone can afford to hire a therapist or coach. Writing is free, accessible and can be private.
- Get Creative. Self expression takes many forms. Mine showed up as writing. You might choose artwork, dance, music, being in nature, shouting at the ocean. Experiment and feel what works. As long as you know you are consciously seeking to express whatever it is you are feeling and ‘connecting the dots’ to release it – do it. If it doesn’t do anything for you, try something else. Find your way.
- We aren’t meant to do this alone. Whether you get counselling, therapy, seek a coaching relationship or partner with a trusted friend or family member. Create safe space to ‘unload & express’ your emotions and feelings. Once a week, once a month or whatever works for you. With whoever you choose, design what you want and need for it to work for you. Maybe you have rules like “no” fixing, interrupting, judgement, problem solving — and “yes” to full permission to feel, talk, acceptance, deep listening and space to notice how things shift as you dedicated time to fully experiencing and express your life as it is.
- The feelings we can’t “be with” will leak out when left ignored ..and make a f*cking mess. These moments have us wondering why we are so easy to lash out at our kids, our spouse, the grocery clerk or how we cuss out drivers on our commute home. What I now know, is that it’s never about what is happening in the moment. It’s simply an old hurt or feeling that we never fully felt from (sometimes) YEARS ago, just waiting to be re-triggered so we can finally give it the love and attention it needs and desires. The anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment – lay ignored and cast aside until their next chance to be seen. If you don’t dedicate time to listen and express, they fester and cause unnecessary drama in situations totally unrelated.
- The most beautiful things grow from sh!t. Like flowers in manure. You may not see the seed but it’s there. The most unexpected gifts have waited for me on the other side of the crappiest of feelings – after deep sorrow, I found compassion, peace, clarity and even forgiveness. I never thought to look before (because frankly, who would want to) and now, I am willing to sit with the difficult and ugly. I trust there is an insight or awareness waiting to be unearthed. And there always is. These gifts are in like whispering after the storm has passed. The sigh of relief, the weight lifted, the new space, the light where darkness once was. If you are willing to fully commit and dig deep…it will be there.
- Healing happens we are FULLY seen, heard, held and witnessed. And we can do this with and for ourselves first by allowing ourselves the right to bare witness to our own experience. This is one of the biggest acts of self love there is — allowing what is, to just be. And finally…
- When I am willing and courageous to get curious about my feelings instead of running and hiding, I receive the BIGGEST TRUTH of all— at their source they actually love me AND each other…. It’s all love.
Pheeww! That was a big post and deserving of the space knowing how many of us struggle with creating a new relationship with our emotions. That being said, I would love to hear from YOU now.
Together, we have an opportunity to deepen learning by sharing, adding to, exploring and discussing our unique perspectives. Remember, we don’t do anything big or meaningful, alone. No one person has ALL the answers.
So tell me… (pick one, a few or all)
- What questions do you have about all of this? What did this post bring up for you? What are you aware of now that you weren’t before?
- What is YOUR experience? How do you access your feelings? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you?
- What do you struggle with when it comes to feeling your emotions? What prevents you from expressing yourself? What do you wish people knew about this process that you are aware of?
I look forward to continuing the conversation in reading your thoughts in the comments below.
With much love for ourselves and each other,