Feelings are our Friends

I spent some time recently talking with a friend who was a hot mess over a situation. I recognized the symptoms of hotmessery fairly quickly, having been there myself just days before: the big feelings, the confusion about what to think and what to do, the desire to make sense of the bits of the story and respond well, the feeling-stuckness in the complexity of it all. And perhaps worst of all, the sense of disorientation about why this issue, which was admittedly not a big deal, loomed at the forefront of their mind all day. “I feel bad that I can’t get over this,” my friend said, “I know that my reactions here are much bigger than the situation warrants but I just can’t figure it out.”

Yep.

Me too.

As we talked, a couple of things began to crystallize for me: fragments of books I’d been reading and random notes in my prayer journal came together to form something of an 3-D picture, and I finally found the words I’d been scrambling for for a couple weeks:

Feelings are our friends.

There are times when we feel swamped and confused by a swirling mass of thoughts and feelings, and in times like that, it’s helpful to remember that these feelings can be our friends. Perhaps this is obvious to you, but it hasn’t always been obvious to me. For much of my life I’ve thought of feelings as powerful, but unreliable bandits: things to be quashed or, at the very least, treated with deep suspicion. But the idea that feelings could be friends and allies (rather than foes) in figuring out life and truth is something relatively new to me.

Feelings make frighteningly terrible masters: it is a terrifying thing to be at the mercy of one’s emotions (friends with anxiety and depression, I hear you). Feelings also make frustratingly terrible servants: which of us was ever able to stop feeling worried simply because we told ourselves to do so? But feelings—like our bodies—sometimes can give us information and tell us the truth about a situation which our rational minds cannot (or will not) attend to.

For example, we might be walking down a dark road and tell ourselves that we’re not scared and there’s nothing at all to be scared of… but our pounding heart and clammy hands tell the truth that we are, in fact, terrified.

Or, as happened with my friend and I, we might be sitting in a coffee shop and telling a story and saying “it’s fine, it’s no big deal,” but our churning emotions and the lurking sense of anger or shame tell us that there’s more at work here than we’ve admitted.

This is what Brene Brown so compellingly invites us to do in her (incredibly helpful) book Rising Strong: to notice our feelings and get curious about them. What is this feeling we’re feeling? Is it anger? Is it fear? Is it disappointment? Is it envy? And then she encourages us to get curious about those emotions themselves without rushing to judgement: what is it about this situation that is making me angry, and what does that tell me? She writes:

“The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”
Brené Brown, Rising Strong

I have a couple friends who are reliable mirrors to me as I share stories about my life: they reflect what they’re seeing back to me, and it helps me to be curious about what’s really going on beneath my emotions. They say things like “you seem angry about that” when I’m telling a story, and then will sometimes gently ask whether I’ve done any thinking about why I might be angry about that. If, instead of just telling myself to “not be angry” about a thing, I can take the time to be curious about why I got so angry, it can give so much good information about the desires and beliefs that simmer so much deeper in my soul.

I may say, for example, that I don’t care about a promotion or a salary increase… but if I’m incredibly angry that Joe Bloggs over there got a raise, that anger might be a clue that I care more about money, or being recognized, or knowing that I’ve made a contribution (or whatever) than I recognized. My wise friend Jen calls this “sifting our desires”, and she’s right: I can do a devilishly good job of deceiving myself that I don’t care about certain things and do care about others – but my feelings (of gloating, envy, schadenfreude etc) will sometimes tell the truth despite me, and a little bit of courageous digging can reveal hurts or deep longings or idols or dreams that I hadn’t faced squarely before.

I re-read Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful novel Gilead this month, and fell in love once again with the tender and wise heart of John Ames, the elderly pastor whose voice tells the story. Writing of how he came to process grief and disappointment, he says this:

“I have never found another way to be as honest with myself as I can be by consulting with these miseries of mine, these accusers and rebukers, God bless them all. So long as they do not kill me outright.”  

He was a man who had befriended his feelings, even the miserable ones. Especially the miserable ones – for by consulting with them he learned to be honest with himself, just as I’m learning to be honest, too. I want to be a joyful, gracious, generous person; but then I have days when I’m grouchy and angry and irrationally mean-spirited. To dismiss those feelings and say to myself: “that was a bad day, I’ll try again with kindness tomorrow” is not a terrible route to walk; but there’s a better route still: to hold my grouchy, angry, irrationally mean-spirited feelings in my hand and look on them as allies: “well, hello there, little feelings – what has got you so upset? and how can we learn from this together?”

It’s messy, brutal, humbling work. But its truthful, and good, and the journey all the richer for the companionship of my hotmessery of feelings.

 

When Messing Up Is A Chance To Practice – {Sheli Massie}

Today’s guest is Sheli Massie: a brave friend and fellow writer in the Redbud Writers Guild. I love Sheli’s honesty, her grit, her gift of encouragement… and I love her message in this post. Leave her some comment love, won’t you?

What if, instead of seeing ourwe saw

There are things that start to happen to you when you are on the other side of healing. And by other side, I mean be brave enough to say you need healing. To acknowledge that you are a broken person who needs to slow down and that you have pieces to put back together. When things are clear in my head and I don’t feel like I need to be in therapy three times a week I find myself being able to complete thoughts and realize where they need to go and where they came from. For example why I repeat patterns when certain times of the year come around or something someone does triggers a reaction that is let’s just say is “not sane healthy “. Well to someone who has lived in trauma for so long I am met face to face with the crap I have kept in there. Like for instance. I can improve on relationships. ( I suck at it) Now before you go all “Pollyanna” on me, realize that I have learned coping strategies through the years and some are not all good. For instance.

I sabotage good things. Like relationships. Or big occasions. I sabotage things are new or make me feel uncomfortable. I sabotage anything that makes me feel afraid. Do you see how I am operating here? Out of fear. But I am a work in progress and Jesus in his sweet gentle voice tells me this is something I am ready to walk through and figure out. That He and I will uncover what makes me feel so insecure and bless me with someone to hold my hand into this brave scary place called freedom.

I never wanted my husband in the delivery room. And until now I didn’t think this was a big deal. I just stated that he drove me crazy and I wanted my girlfriends in there, who knew what I liked and didn’t like. Do you see the problem? I didn’t want him near me. I didn’t want him to be a part of a very intimate moment that lasted 22 hours for one child and thousands of hours for the rest. I wanted other people closer to me. So when you begin to unravel what healthy is and your head comes clear, Jesus reveals things to you in small doses that you still need to unwrap. Like my inability to trust. I didn’t trust my husband, I didn’t trust hum to take care of me. I didn’t trust that he could comfort me. I didn’t trust him with my safety. I didn’t trust him as my legs were up in stir-ups and every stranger was up in my business yet I didn’t trust the one I made a covenant with. Perhaps I had some issues….

Do you see how alarming this is? I know others think this is crazy and strange. But I am seeing it as a chance to “practice” (new word I am learning from my wise people). It helps me to realign my thoughts that I am practicing and not making mistakes. I have to catch myself saying that I “messed up again” but this is just “practicing”.

I am learning that this is my turn to practice trusting. Practice inviting myself to pause in the unknown and sit there. Practice staying in the quiet when it makes my skin crawl and I want to hide in my bed and binge watch House of Cards. Practice sitting in the moment and finishing the conversation when all I want to do is say something sarcastic that others would find funny. Practice telling the truth even though it may make others upset. Practice slowing down. Practice leaving space. Practice saying yes to what really matters. Practice filling my space with things that are only useful and beautiful. Practice connecting to those I claim to love. Practice being present when my mind wanders to wherever I am not.

Practice is hard. Practice requires that I show up and put in my best effort. Practice makes me cry and wish for another coach. Practice leaves me exhausted and wanting a water break. But from what I have learned practice makes me ready for the game. It helps me to show up when it matters most and be ready to do this life thing together. It helps me know what works and what doesn’t work.

So when we “mess up” and get overwhelmed with how many times we have yelled or pouted or ignored to get our way. We take a deep breath and acknowledge that this was “practice” and we can try again.

So what if we all practiced together? Instead of repeating the patterns of our past or blaming it on a personality trait what if we all were brave enough to show up. In the little things? In the big things? If we were all brave enough to reach out to someone and say “help”. If we were brave enough to write that letter and say “I’m sorry”. If we were brave enough to fall and get back up again. If we were brave enough to tell that story. If we were brave enough to say “no more”. If we were brave enough to look him in the eyes. If we were brave enough to walk away. If we were brave enough to stay. If we were brave enough to turn off the TV. If we were brave enough to say the first words. If we were brave enough to love. If we were brave enough to forgive ourselves.

You can. We can. We can be brave.

You are brave sweet one. You are.

View More: http://snohling.pass.us/massieloveAbout Sheli: ​I am a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or I didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. I live in the western suburbs of Chicago with my husband who has pushed me to be a better version of myself for sixteen years. I adore my best friends and I get anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so I stay in my yoga pants and write about my redemptive story at shelimassie.com. I am a proud member of Redbud Writers Guild.

 

Photo Credit: Georgio____, Silhouette (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea.