It’s ok to feel your feelings, in fact it’s crucial if you want to be able to flow with life’s events. If feelings are suppressed they get locked up in the body and can cause pain and health problems. We can carry this trapped emotion around for years, often until another event triggers us and then we have a choice; to continue to suppress and deepen the pattern or to feel and release the emotion.
“If feelings are suppressed they get locked up in the body and can cause pain and health problems.”
Last night I dropped my phone and the screen smashed! I’ve dropped my phone countless times before and it’s bounced on the rubber cover or landed on something soft and I’ve ‘got away with it’. This time I was not so lucky and when I arrived at a pub to meet a friend and climbed out of my car my phone slipped out of my hand and landed face down in the car park.
I immediately felt a jolt in the middle of my chest and when I picked up my phone and saw the cracked screen the feeling intensified. I could hear my inner critic; “that’s what you get for being in a hurry”; “what an idiot”. I was devastated since I’d only upgraded the phone 3 months ago.
I walked into the pub to meet my friend; greeted her and told her what had just happened.
It’s hard to feel our feelings, when many of us were told things like “big girls don’t cry”
In the past that incident would have ruined my whole evening. I would have ‘put on a brave face’ and ‘pushed the feeling down’. It’s hard to feel our feelings, when most of us have been taught or even encouraged not to feel and were told things like “big girls don’t cry” or even more cruelly “if you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about”.
Thankfully, I’ve learned that feeling the emotion, getting the message and taking appropriate action means that I can get on and enjoy my life more quickly and that’s what I was able to do last night!
As I allowed myself to connect with the feeling I recognized it as shame. I was being hard on myself for being late, getting out of the car in a hurry and being stupid to drop my phone. As I noticed that I was berating myself I was able to choose a different path and show myself some compassion.
The whole subject of feelings and emotions and how we are taught to suppress them became the topic of our conversation in the pub. I shared with my friend the impact that this has on our wellbeing and how my journey has taught me that we can even free ourselves of suppressed emotion years after the event.
Here are a couple of examples that I shared with her:
“My first pony was a Welsh Mountain called Dainty, who I loved. Every weekend Mum would take me to the local shows and although we did well, often being in first or second position, there came a time when he was exchanged for a better quality showing pony called Como. A few months after Como arrived he became ill and I was sent off to my Nan’s for the day. I imagine Mum didn’t want me to see Como in discomfort and thought that the vet would come and drench him, and all would be well. Unfortunately, he contracted a twisted gut and had to be put to sleep. So, I returned home to find that my new pony had gone! From that point forward some part of me shut down, I was determined not to ‘open my heart’ and risk being hurt again. I found it difficult to say goodbye. All because I didn’t have the opportunity to grieve for either pony.
On the third night of my first week of EFL training in Arizona a horse died. The facilitators were all grief stricken and the death became part of our process for the week. We were encouraged to feel and open up to grief. It was only then, some 40 years after I’d lost both of my ponies that I actually ‘felt’ the grief and released the tears. From that point on I allowed myself to grieve in the moment.”
This is what Linda Kohanov calls an ‘emotional corrective experience’.
It never ceases to amaze me how our bodies protect us, only allowing us to feel and process when we are ready, the time is right, and we have the appropriate emotional support. This is a common occurrence and one of the benefits of Equine Facilitated Learning. An experience with a horse taps into feelings which resonate with an old memory.
In this next example, as in my own experience, the client was unable to ‘feel’ her emotion at the time of the initial incident and most likely dissociated. As the EFL session unfolds the client is able to feel the emotion and receive an opportunity for learning, an emotional shift and healing.
“On a 3 day workshop a client went into the indoor arena to explore connecting with one of the horses. The horse was standing still in the middle of the arena and the client was at the opposite end from me and the other group members, between the horse and the far wall. Suddenly the client told me that she felt frightened. I asked her to notice where she could feel the feeling in her body and to notice what the message was. She said, “I feel it in my solar plexus and the message is that I need to get out”. The horse was still motionless in the centre of the arena.
I quietly indicated to the client that behind her was another exit door and that she could go out of that door and walk back on the outside of the building. A few moments later she joined us in the gallery and said, ‘that was amazing’. She explained that the horse had represented someone in her past who had trapped her in a corner, she had been terrified, but unable to move, had frozen and dissociated. In this experience she had been able to ‘feel’ the feeling of fear that had been suppressed all those years ago and move to safety. Another ‘emotional corrective experience’.
Here are some signs to look out for that help you identify when you are suppressing your emotions:
1. You keep talking about an incident/event, going around in circles, with no conclusion.
2. You try to mask your feelings or emotions with overdrinking, overeating, overthinking or over spending.
3. You avoid talking about an incident/event, ‘put on a happy brave face’ and avoid situations that might bring up similar feelings.
4. You tell stories about people who are ignoring their emotions (project your incongruence onto others) without realizing that you are doing this yourself.
“Feeling your feelings and emotions sets you free”
To feel, notice and allow your feelings, body sensations and emotions is crucial.
Here is a way to begin allowing your feelings and emotions to flow:
1. Feel them
2. Notice where they manifest in your body
3. Name them
4. Allow them to be there
5. Ask what the feeling, sensation or emotion is there to tell you
Contrary to what you might have been taught feeling your feelings and emotions sets you free. It’s a natural process that we were taught to inhibit. If you’ve been suppressing your emotions the whole of your life it takes time and practice.
From my own personal experience, it’s well worth the effort and one of the most important skills to live a life true to yourself.
If you would like support in the process, please get in touch.