Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shame Series # 4 Feeling Your Feelings


Feeling your feelings and emotions is an important step in breaking free from the Troll of Shame. Is there a difference between feelings and emotions? 

            Often feelings or even the word feeling, is a very difficult word for people.  Almost any outward display of emotion is ridiculed, made fun of in the press, and punctuated as something negative. Client’s come into my office and pay really good money but spend all of their energy not to feel anything, especially sad or mad.  Once a client has spent enough time with me to understand the phenomena of shame beneath their feelings, then it seems to be especially hard to let feelings come forward.  Shame is a very uncomfortable feeling and often more intense than sadness or anger.  Shame carries intense biology often punctuating itself with physical sensations of nausea and angst.  

Donald Nathanson (1992) in his book Shame and Pride helpfully describes for us the vocabulary of Emotion.  There he describes affect, feeling, emotion, mood and disorder.  His descriptions help delineate the subtle differences in and between them.  Affect, which is the biology of emotion which I have addressed in early parts of this workbook, is the automatic physiological responses our bodies make when any of the nine identified affects have been triggered. Feeling is described as an awareness of the affect, emotion is the biographical history of the feeling, mood is the persistent state of the emotion, and disorder is when the persistent state of emotion interferes with daily functions of life, or the person’s “norm.”  

From my perspective, disorders are created by a sense of overwhelm from the scripts and beliefs that are not identified and ferreted out from other internal chaos that is going on.  The more we learn about the brain, the more we realize how much we don’t know.   It is the not knowing that leads us back to discussion of feeling. 

Because feelings are so difficult to experience and express perhaps you are “feeling-phobic.” Most people are perfectly content if all of their feelings stay in the closet.  When a feeling dares express itself or come out of the closet, the environmental reaction is often so harsh that the feeling runs back to the closet vowing never to be sad, mad, afraid, or expressive again.   Often young children are socialized to hold their feelings close to their chest with minimal or no outlet of their expression.  As a result, we have more child violence than ever reported before, and we have many adults that are completely incapable of establishing and maintaining relationships because they are too emotionally impaired to participate fully in the type of true vulnerability required in an adult relationship.  Many people find it difficult to be in an emotionally demanding relationship when their feelings are stuck in the darkness of the closet.  Let’s stop here and do a couple of feeling exercises to see if you can identify what is going on underneath the surface of your psyche right now. 


Feeling Awareness Exercise: 

Allow yourself to find a quiet place and a comfortable way of sitting.  As you sit, take a look around and really notice your environment.  Allow yourself to identify by naming the colors, objects, scents, and sounds in the room you have chosen. Then allow yourself to gently close your eyes and breathe in.  At first, just notice your body as you breathe in and then out.  Notice, where you are tight, the depth or shallowness of your breath and then allow yourself to inhale deeply and slowly.  Hold the breath for a moment and gently release it fully back into the room.  Allow yourself to develop your own rhythm to your breath.  Once you are aware of your rhythm and it feels comfortable to you, ask yourself the following questions. As you answer the following questions, remember this is an awareness exercise, so spend some time with each question or with the question that resonates most with you at this time.

 What am I feeling right now?  What am I paying attention to?  From there, allow yourself to turn back the pages of your daily life and ask  “What has been happening in my life and how am I feeling about it?”

Allow the faces of your family members, friends, and colleagues that are currently in your day-to-day life to come into your mind’s eye.  Just scan their faces as if you were looking at a photo album. While you are going from page to page, notice what you feel as each face appears. Who do you feel good about?  Who brings you joy and laughter?   Which face makes you recoil as if you have done something wrong or bad?  Which face stirs up angry feelings inside of you or sad feelings?   For example, suppose you come across the face of a co‑worker and you find yourself feeling a bit agitated and your breath naturally shortens.  What is the story with that co‑worker?  What has been going on inside of your head about him/her?  Allow yourself to flip back through the pages of that story rather quickly until you come to the beginning of the story, the time when you first noticed something going on inside of your body that you did not feel good about when you were around this colleague.  You may find that now it is hard for you to stay with that situation, you may find that it is difficult for you to focus on whatever uncomfortable feeling that is there. You may start becoming fidgety, and your mind may try to escape to your “to do” list.  Take a deep breath and see if you can allow yourself to stay with that “first story” for just a moment longer.  Refocus your attention to you.  Notice what happened inside of your body when that bad feeling started coming up.  Notice your facial expression.  What was going on?  Drop down into just one more level of consciousness and ask yourself what did I need right then? What do I wish I would have done differently?  What did I want to say but became too afraid, intimidated, or embarrassed to say?