“Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You will be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” ~ Louis C.K.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind on the subject of feelings? Do you think, “I can’t wait to talk about my feelings and share” or do you tend to think more like “get away, that’s the last subject I want to talk about”?
Oh the crazy world of feelings. They can be so touchy and personal all at the same time. Show your feelings. Keep them inside. What do we do?
Feelings come and go all the time. Truth be told, they are not right or wrong. They just are. I thought the feelings I experienced during those first few weeks and months after my Dad passed away were a lot to handle. These days, my feelings about my Mom living with dementia, well, all I can tell you is, that is a completely different story all together.
Mom’s journey is different from Dad’s, yet sometimes I think she has a more difficult one than he did. My feelings can be all over the place on this subject. On a good day, when Mom is happy, stable and the quality of her life is on the upside, then, it is what it is. I find love and gratitude that we’ve shared another day together. On an emotional day when nothing is going well and Mom is struggling just to get through the moment, let alone the day, well, on those days I’m definitely not feeling the gratitude. I can’t stand this part of the disease. My feelings can become all consuming and the highs and lows of emotion can feel too much, between anger, sadness, tears, rage, just wishing she didn’t have to deal with this disease and some of the horrible aspects that come with it. The helplessness that I feel in wanting to take this from her, knowing that I can’t and yet wishing I could do more to help her, anything to put the smile back on her face.
Two completely different realities for Mom and Dad yet both situations have brought so many different feelings to the surface that sometimes I don’t know which way to feel one way or the other! I miss Dad every day yet at the same time, I miss Mom, too; the woman she used to be and will never be again. I miss my “Mom” as the mother she has always been to me. I miss my best friend, confident and the woman who knows me inside and out. Oh how our roles have changed these days.
And, yet with the heartbreak of losing Dad and now Mom challenged with dementia, I have come to realize that I have a strength inside of me that is much greater than the strength that I have always known to be about myself. Interestingly enough, growth comes from pain and grief and this experience has taught me much.
I mention this to you because feelings are powerful. All feelings stem from a place of love or from a place of fear. Feelings of joy, happiness, trust, compassion, kindness, gratefulness, all indicate a place of love. It’s easy to feel them when they are good, happy, pleasant, and peaceful; life is beautiful type of feelings. No worries with these kinds of feelings. The feelings that are challenging are those fear-based emotions such as anger, hurt, pain, anguish, sadness, frustration, confusion, shame, guilt. Grief can bring feelings that feel so foreign and extremely overwhelming that for many, the experience can be gripping, scary, never-ending, maddening, confusing, and isolating.
From the moment a loss occurs and we know nothing will ever be the same again, we may experience:
feelings of being out of control
feelings of being overwhelmed
feeling disconnected from family and friends
feelings of being stuck in a rut
feelings of “falling apart”
feelings of hopelessness
feelings that nothing matters or has meaning
Regardless of whether your feelings are love-based or fear-based, all of our emotions control our thinking, behaviors and actions as well as our physical bodies.
It is important to note that we do not need to be afraid of our feelings. Each of us has a choice in that we are entitled to feel anyway we choose. We do not have any control over our feelings. The only thing any of us can do with our feelings is to learn to live with them and find ways to manage them. The best way to do this is by allowing ourselves to feel every emotion, acknowledging every feeling, the good ones and the not so good ones, learning to express them and then embrace ways to let them go.
So why is this so hard to do? I believe for many of us we are just afraid. Most people are afraid of their emotions, afraid of what will happen if they lose control, afraid of crying, afraid of feeling the loss, afraid of what others might think, afraid of a sense of failure, afraid of being looked at as weak. We can easily spend our time talking about feelings and busying ourselves to avoid them. There are a gazillion ways to do this:
- Ignore your feelings and pretend nothing has happened or is different
- Excessive drinking of alcohol, drug use, sex
- Working compulsively
- Excessive TV and reading
- Always keeping busy so you can’t feel
- Constantly analyzing anything and everything
- Keeping conversations superficial
- Burying emotions – wearing masks that everything is ok
When we choose these types of behaviors we suppress our feelings and the pain lingers and many times we can stay stuck in grief. The best way to deal with our fear of feelings is to take action in allowing ourselves to feel our emotions as they arise. The truth of the matter is that allowing yourself to feel is actually a sign of strength, courage, empowerment and healthy self-esteem.
So now that you know how to avoid your feelings, what can you do to feel them and move beyond them? Below are some ideas to help you:
- Talk about your feelings – talk, talk, talk and then talk some more. Get with a trusted family member or friend and share your feelings. Once you give your feelings a voice you can then find ways to move on. Surround yourself with as much positive and encouraging support as you can. If your family or friends cannot accept your grief and what it is doing to you, find a support group or some spiritual guidance so you can open your heart to all that you are feeling
- Cry about your feelings – crying is a normal response for every human being in releasing feelings. Quite often crying will alleviate some of your pain and help to eventually make it endurable.
- Write about your feelings – writing will give you a very private place to detail your emotions, raw and without judgment. It is very easy to pooh pooh our emotions and pretend them away. By writing feelings down, you now have a tool which will allow you to accept your true thoughts and a place that completely belongs to you. No one else ever needs to share this place with you.
- Physically express your feelings – this can mean different things to each of us. For one person a drive in the car and a good loud scream is helpful. For someone else, a long, hard cry. Yet another may need to pound a pillow or hit a punching bag. Still others, may face their feelings by physical exercise. A long walk, running, any kind of sport. The physical release is what matters. Feel the feeling and release the fear.
The world of feelings is all encompassing and with grief it can be a scary black whole of emotion. When we are honest with ourselves and can face our emotions good and bad as they arise, feelings can come and go but we will have the skill of managing them each and every time. The goal is always to find the calm in the storm and be at peace.