While waiting for a flight recently, I struck up conversation with the guy next to me. Turns out, we were on the same journey, a quick weekend in Boston and now headed home. But our reasons couldn’t have been more different. Both were with family, but while mine was fun and adventure, his visited his gravely ill grandmother. He told me he didn’t think he was going to be able to go, but his cousin helped at the last moment. When I asked how she was doing, the answer was not well. It appeared she was going to pass away soon. Without a second breath, I found myself saying how fortunate it was he got to see her. “At least you got to be there.”
And then immediately caught myself. I’d rushed to sympathy instead of sitting with him in the emotion. Instead of empathy. Quickly, I changed course. Leaning in and talking about how hard it must be. Staying with whatever emotion this 20ish guy might be feeling about losing his grandmother.
It’s human nature to rush past emotion. To skip past empathy to get to the place where everything is better. “Look on the bright side,” “Something good will come from this,” “You’re better off.” The list could honestly go on forever, the variations having morphed over time to fit the situation.
Yet, we need to feel emotion, and, when the situation presents itself, to be side by side with others as they feel, if for nothing else to give them time to feel. Feel the highs and the lows.
Another tactic we use, a personal favorite, is to stay busy, productive. Nobody can fault me for that. I’m getting crap done. Except what I most need to do at times, which is to wrestle through the feelings. I know I’m not alone in this tactic, Brené Brown wrote about it;
“Crazy-busy is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.”
Armor is nothing more than the defensive tactics we use to protect ourselves. From emotion, from what we need to feel, from up close life with people, including ourselves. You may be getting a tremendous amount done, hiding behind the socially acceptable guise of productivity, but it’s protection.
When we avoid the feelings, they don’t go away, the burrow down inside of us and wait for the most inopportune time to emerge. It’s because we haven’t looked at them face to face and wrestled through what they’re telling us.
Depending on the circumstance, they can run the gamut. Everything conceivable and even some we don’t want to own up to. I had an interesting conversation with a professional in these matters the other day who told me that societally, women are given permission to feel everything but anger, yet anger is the only emotion men can safely feel.
I found that fascinating but have seen it play out time and time again. I, for one, am quite anger adverse. It feels unsafe to me. Not a rational thought, but it’s the story I tell myself. In fact, I’m quite unaware to any anger I feel. And when faced with anger in another person, it feels more abrasive than it likely is. I feel it in my body, as though my center is being thrown off kilter. But anger is only an emotion. One that each of us can and do feel. The sooner we acknowledge that the better.
So, what of all this? What do we do with the emotions, the feelings?
Get down in the mud and wrestle with them. When we avoid, we defer. The feelings, emotions, will not go away. They lie dormant and until we process through, we might feel stuck.
And to the degree we can support another through the same journey, all the better. Feel the feelings and put down the armor that you think is keeping you safe, but in reality is doing nothing except allowing you to be numb and stuck, and distant from true self and others.
Our journey to authenticity is bumpy, and messy, and emotional. Be brave my dears, we’re on the path together.