Love your Emotions, Love Yourself
By Christian Ogden, MA, LPC
Darn those pesky emotions! If I could only get rid of my feelings, maybe I could finally love myself and be at peace! Does this sound familiar and not too far-fetched to you? The real issue here is not knowing how to deal with the body's unwelcome house guests, what to do with those annoying hangers-on. I guarantee you are not alone in this. Let's face it: In all likelihood you have not been taught the skills you need to be able to make sense of feelings.
This is not the fault of your parents, or parent's parents, the educational system, or even society. The simple truth is you cannot teach what you have not learned. Therefore fear of emotions is the biggest epidemic there is, passed unknowingly from generation to generation... It is not enough for someone to tell you to simply feel your feelings. You must learn skills to make emotions of benefit to you and your life, your relationships. Until you learn these tools, anger, sadness, anxiety, and outright panic are treated as the enemy by necessity.
In some cases it makes sense to be afraid. Of course, biologically emotions are there in order to preserve life and to protect an organism from harm. Anger, fear, and apathy are biologically necessary for survival in a dog eat dog (or lion eat deer) world. The problem is that we likely have far less physical threats, at least in our society, than in times past. Yet we still have emotional responses that seem to actually hinder our ability to respond to our environment, rather than helping survival. We have graduated in civilization into potentially being debilitated or destroyed by our overwhelming emotions, as in the case of severe depression, suicidality, anxiety, and anger. I would go so far to say that if we do not know how to move our emotions, if we don't know what to do with them, it actually is intelligent not to feel them, despite advice of partners, therapists, and self-help writers to just feel it!
If it were possible to love ourselves by loving our emotions, if we could find a way to not just tolerate, but to grow and feel stronger in our emotions, wouldn't that make sense? It is possible. Through my experience of many years of external exploration and trial and error, I have found a way to relate to feelings that has not only helped me to truly love myself, but to literally change my life for the better!
I will share a specific technique following, but the essence is this: The more I can accept my experience exactly as it is, and naturally learn from it, the more I can accept my immediate world as it is, namely other people. Therefore the more I feel internally resourced to handle situations which life throws at me, the less I need to resort to manipulation, control, aggression, and fear within myself and towards others.
I must make it clear that loving yourself through loving your emotions is not about feeling good all or even most of the time. The ongoing goal is to increase acceptance of your internal experience as it is, with as little judgment, in fact with as little thought, as possible. This is, if course, a constant work in progress. The point is to hang in there long enough to get to the purpose of the emotion. I say that most emotions have a message, and all such messages point you back to your true self, which in this case is not meant as some ultimate reality. Rather being you is simply you following your basic character and your basic experiences. It is following your own unique path.
Allow me to be more specific. Each basic emotion has a general purpose. I find the purpose of anger to generally be self-protection and self-definition, a sense of self. Sadness points toward feeling more deeply, giving oneself solitude and down time to go inward, to take care of one's psychic house. Depression can suggest that one is denying one's feelings, not allowing oneself to feel about life events past and present. Panic confronts oneself with not knowing how to take care of oneself in the world. Similarly anxiety often points toward losing touch with oneself, a message to come back to you. These messages might not fully make sense to your mind, but see if you can feel your body agreeing with these at a gut level beyond thought. Does it just feel true?
Ok, let's get even more specific. Each feeling will have a message unique to you and your way of learning. The message could come as words, images, a feeling, etc. The important part is to hang out with the feeling with minimal thought long enough to get clear.
Sit comfortably, get still by following your breath, and drop your awareness, which likely hangs out in your head, down a few inches, which will bring your focus more to your body, the home of emotions. Breathe more deeply to further bring your attention down. Then simply tune into specific sensations, the building blocks of emotions. An emotion is a thought combined with a physical sensation, so take your focus off your thoughts and onto your sensations to get the best information. Choose the strongest sensation you feel, and hang out with it. One pointer: relate to the sensation the way you would a young child or a pet who is scared, upset, or agitated. Bring your loving presence, not trying to fix or change a feeling, just being there and giving it space to be. The best thing you can do for a crying child is to hold them and repeat "it's ok." Feel free to do the same with a sensation, either in imagination or just with your full presence and acceptance that it is there. Then the magic can happen! One way or another, as you practice this, the sensation will communicate back to you. This could be an idea of how to take care of yourself, ask for what you want, and communicate clearly in a relationship, take some time off, accomplish a task that has been on your mind, or making a change of some sort.
Just get more practiced over time at hanging in long enough to get the message. If you do not notice particular sensations, as can be the case if you're not used to paying attention to your body, you can use the same approach to hang out with your thoughts with acceptance and relaxation, or even ask your body to give you more information. You will likely be amazed at the response to a gentle request!
Another important point is to work with whatever your awareness shows, to accept even the resistance to checking in. Most of all be gentle with yourself, your hang ups, your experience, and this will grow fruits no matter what happens. Best wishes in living love for yourself!