The past year has been a year full of what feels like unsolicited disclosure; a year of pulling back curtains and uncovering things that, quite frankly, I think a lot of us—from this side of things—would almost rather had remained cloaked by mystery and the sweet, blissful balm of ignorance.
It feels like life keeps flashing open its trench coat and we’re all, “Ugh! Nobody wants to see that!” over and over again.
However, we can’t unsee what we’ve seen, no matter how much we wish it were so. And so, here we all are, filled with all manner of contradicting thoughts and feelings, and no frigging clue what to do with them.
The good news is that this conundrum isn’t actually new. We’ve mostly always been pretty terrible at managing our feelings and thoughts, whether they’ve been contradictory or otherwise. That’s because most humans (especially the adult variety) are exceptionally accustomed to stuffing emotions away instead of, you know, feeling them.
We confuse how we’re feeling with resisting how we don’t want to feel. We think we’re tired of feeling a certain way, when in reality, we are actually tired from resisting allowing ourselves to feel what there is to feel.
I get it. You want to feel differently than you do. Me too. We all want to feel something something other and better than what is there to be felt, so we cross our arms, close our hearts and stand our ground against the unwelcome emotion. We go full Gandalf “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” on the unwanted feelings.
It’s all very noble, and all very counterproductive. It’s exhausting.
I am no expert, but I’m noticing that emotional fatigue is often more accurately resistance fatigue. When I talk to people who say they are tired of feeling a certain way, it inevitably turns out that they are habitually avoiding feeling the way they don’t want to feel. If that seems confusing or dizzying to read, then just imagine what this does to our minds!
It isn’t an acute experience of emotion that wears us out; it’s the chronic overexertion of keeping our walls up and our feelings out that leaves us mentally, physically and spiritually drained, which in turn leaves us feeling ill-prepared and under-resourced for whatever comes next.
This is extra tricky when what comes next seems like a relentless set of crashing waves. It’s hard to feel the sand under your feet, and you can’t quite get your breath before the next wave is upon you. It’s scary. It can make you panic in the ocean, and it can make you panic in your emotions, too. And fear and panic are not normally where we make our more rational decisions.
If you’ve ever just let yourself be awash with whatever emotion is there, like finally having a good old tantrum or shouting match, or allowing grief to envelop you with sadness until you cannot sob another tear, you might feel tired, yes, but I think the better word here is “spent”.
Whenever I’ve finally relinquished the stranglehold on my resistance to feeling a particular way, and let myself be swept up in the release (crying, shouting, moving the energy out), I feel better. I can see more clearly. Perspective returns, along with clarity, peace and presence. I wonder, once again, why I didn’t give in to my emotions sooner.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this—can you relate? Toddlers do this all the time. All The Time (ask their parents). Their emotional rollercoaster can leave us adults with whiplash, but I notice that small children move on from The Stuff with a lot more ease and speed than most grownups I know, myself included.
The trouble with stuffing our emotions as a coping strategy is that it doesn’t work, or at least not for long. It’s like putting a bandaid over a bullet wound. The trouble runs deeper, and risks festering. Festering is never good.
One, it gets all bunged up in there. We get emotionally constipated. Our desires (for getting what we want and avoiding that which we don’t) all have feelings wrapped up in them, so if we avoid those feelings, we tend to wind up emotionally backed up AND want-stipated.
Want-stipation is just what it sounds like. It’s when your emotions and desires get all jammed up and your thoughts and feelings become constrained, restricted and stop flowing. I know: ewww, but just like our bowels, easy, breezy and flowing naturally is the aim of the game.
Secondly, what you resist, persists. You can’t leave a place you’ve never been. So, if you refuse to acknowledge where you are, emotionally, and what you’re feeling, then you can’t move past it. But, sort of like when there’s a spider in your room <>, you wind up becoming obsessed with where exactly it is. You MUST keep an eye on it, or else it’ll disappear, only to surprise you on your pillow in the middle of the night, because that is clearly a spider’s plan.
So, refusing to allow feelings (and spiders) to just be and do their thing means that you have to keep constant vigilance. You become a prisoner to the thing you’re trying to imprison. You wind up with a constant low-grade experience of the thing you’re trying to avoid, because it’s constantly in your field of vision, reminding you of its existence.
If what we focus on grows, then your avoidance gives more attention and energy—your energy—to the thing you want to avoid. Like the monster in the closet, your fear feeds itself, getting bigger and louder, which takes even more energy and attention to drown out.
This cycle is never ending, unless we change it. Our emotions become a mounting threat, requiring constant and ever-increasing vigilance. It’s impossible to be present in the moment when you’re endlessly worried about what might happen in the next one.
Vigilance is exhausting. It makes us jumpy and paranoid. Keeping guard is tiring. That’s why soldiers take shifts to keep lookout for enemies. But when you’re keeping watch for undesirable feelings, there’s no one to relieve you from yourself, ever.
Focusing on what you want to avoid does not automatically result in experiencing what you desire.
So, if you really want to change the way you feel, start by allowing yourself to feel what is there, now. Notice when you’re resisting your emotions (you’ll know because you’ll be antsy, frustrated, or tired of feeling a particular way), and see if you can let yourself feel it, instead.
Feelings last thirty seconds, chemically speaking, in your brains. All the rest is the story you’re making up about it, and fighting against something that does not care, or know, how you feel about it.
Channel your inner toddler, and allow yourself to feel and express what’s there, so it can move on, and so can you.