At aqua aerobics the other day, a woman suggested we wouldn’t feel how cold the pool was if we thought about something else, that this theory applied to everything in our lives: we’d be happier if we didn’t pay so much attention to our feelings.
Because I’m an introverted hsp, it often takes me so long to process what is happening or being said that the moment has passed before I’ve formulated a response. That was the case in aqua aerobics when the “don’t feel your feelings and you’ll be more comfortable” argument was made. I knew it was fundamentally wrong, but was still processing the why. I kept moving without responding, not even a “that’s an interesting theory but I’m not sure I agree.” It’s only after sleeping on it that my response became clear.
This happens a lot. It’s weirdly what makes me a better writer, or at least a better writer than conversationalist. I spend a lot of time deeply processing so when I do have a response, it’s full and complete, more meaningful or potentially helpful than what I would have said in the moment. People often tell me I’m a great listener, but it’s really because all I can do when you are talking to me is listen, stay open to what you are saying and silently process in the background. Of course, I give pretty good feedback, even advice if you are asking for it, in the moment, but it’s some time later that I can give my best response. This works out fine if you are someone I have an ongoing relationship and we can return again to a previous conversation, not so great if we meet in passing.
Back to this notion of not feeling your feelings. The idea that to feel is a problem and to ignore them is some sort of life hack. Wrong. So wrong. The only way to transform feelings IS to feel them, to become friendly with them, acknowledge and accept them. What we feel is always useful information. It can reveal if a situation or person is unsafe, help us set good boundaries, uncover the places our needs aren’t being met, make clear someone’s hidden motives, provide crucial information we need in order to react with right speech and right action.
I spent a lot of my early life being asked to keep my feelings quiet, to myself, hidden away. I was taught, directly and by example, not to trust or honor my feelings. I was gaslit and silenced, told my feelings didn’t matter, that I was confused and wrong, that I must just be hungry, sick, or tired. Not being able to trust or even access my feelings got me into a lot of trouble, allowed me to stay in situations that were harmful, waiting for someone else to tell me how I should feel. It got to the point I couldn’t even find my feelings anymore, didn’t recognize or understand them when they did arise.
Feeling your feelings doesn’t mean you always have to act on them. Along with allowing ourselves to feel, we cultivate self-awareness. We contemplate what might be triggering the feelings, the various ways we might be confused or compromised, and we cultivate the self-discipline to not automatically react but rather wait until we have some clarity.
It seems to be a particularly white female neurosis to believe that we can control our experience through self-denial. To think that things will go better, everyone will be happy and comfortable if we simply pretend and perform as if everything is fine, even when it clearly isn’t. In fact, to deny your feelings, to dissociate, is a trauma response.
It is safe to experience our feelings. We can be trusted to feel, and whatever we feel is perfectly okay. We also have the capacity and wisdom to determine exactly how to honor our feelings. Do we act on them? Do we hear them out, then let them dissolve and go? Do we determine there is a need to get support, work more intentionally with our feelings? Through practice, we can trust ourselves to know.