Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I’m following up on a question about feelings and it’s taken me a while to figure out what I want to say.

For a long time, I tried very hard NOT to feel. Then I began to realize that one cannot feel joy and happiness unless one feels every emotion. It’s not possible to just block the negative ones.

It can be very easy to not feel anything. Especially about traumatic events. Easier not to deal with all those painful emotions. When asked how we feel about something, we may answer: “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” And it’s the truth. We maybe so afraid of what we would feel if we let ourselves know that we block our feelings completely--just like Spock did on Star Trek. And just like Spock, they may sometimes slip through.

The answer, for me, was to realize that I could handle the emotions. I created a safe environment in which to let myself feel. I surrounded myself with things that to me symbolized strength and safety. I set time limits—no more than 15 minutes at a time to let the intense emotions reach the surface. I would immediately do something afterwards that made me smile. I would run through the list of my strengths before I began. I would distance myself one step by imagining the child I had been telling me how she felt and I would imagine myself comforting her and helping her realize it wasn’t her fault and that NOW she was safe and loved.

I had strategies in place if I did get overwhelmed. Hurting myself was not allowed. (I’d had too much of that in my life already from other people!) Instead, I had a list of things I could do that would make me feel safe and/or smile. I had a list of reasons to keep going forward and reasons to believe that I could someday be happy.And I made sure I knew who I could call if I needed someone to help me process what I had felt.

These days I don’t ask myself what I feel so much as I ask myself what I WANT to feel. Do I want to feel the sadness over the shootings at Virginia Tech or do I want to focus on the heroism of individuals who made a difference that day? Do I want to focus on frustration with a friend or do I want to focus on and remember the good times she and I have shared, the times she was there for me when I needed her? Do I want to focus on my anger at someone or on the compassion I feel for whatever hurt or fear prompted the words or actions?

If I want to, in any moment I can feel any emotion I choose. All I have to do is focus on the right triggers. I’m not blocking any emotions or denying them—only choosing where I put my focus.

How do I know what makes me happy or if I am happy? Anything that makes me grin and feel like laughing. In any moment, I can bring up something in my life that will make me grin. And I choose to be grateful for having whatever that is in my life.

If I find myself hunching my shoulders, that’s a pretty good tip-off that I’m feeling shame about something. Then I know that I need to focus on compassion for myself and remind myself of all the things I do like about who I am.

If I feel my neck muscles tense and my shoulders, odds are I’m feeling anger. And then I may choose to step back and look with compassion at whomever or whatever is triggering that emotion. I remind myself that the filter through which I am perceiving things may be flawed—the person may not intend offense or disrespect. I remind myself that if the issue is important, I am most likely to find a way to alter the other person’s actions/words/perceptions if I let go of my anger and try to see things through that other person’s eyes.

If my face takes on a certain shape, I know it’s sadness I’m feeling. And I can choose again to focus not on what has been lost but on the blessings that have or will come out of whatever is triggering my sadness.

I hope this helps answer the question about feelings. Know that you have the power to choose what you feel. It may not seem like it and it may take practice and it may be uncomfortable at first to BE happy.

---It’s not about denying or suppressing emotions but rather about choosing where to place one’s focus.

---It’s about choosing to see life and the world through new and more empowering filters.

---It’s about rewriting the old messages so that we can genuinely let go of emotions that no longer serve us well.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Marj aka Thriver said...

The body really does give clues to our feelings, doesn't it? It can be quite painful, but I'm learning that feeling my feelings is key. Eloquent, insightful post as usual April1

April_optimist said...


It can be painful but as I said in my post, allowing ourselves to feel the pain is also the key to being able to feel the joy.(((Hugs)))

jumpinginpuddles said...

this helped us so much, we found it interesting that you didnt hurt yourself becasue youd bene hurt so much yet we are the opposite its all we know so its what we do this was so sos good thankyou for writing it

Karma said...

Great post!

April_optimist said...

Thanks. The good thing is that just because something is all we've known in the past, it doesn't have to be all we know in the future.