How did you grow up feeling about your feelings? Did you get listened to, affirmed, allowed to feel whatever was inside? Or were you shamed, put down, told to stop? We all have a memory of when we were told not to feel the way we do.
“You shouldn’t be angry!”
“You know better, that shouldn’t hurt your feelings!”
“Why are you feeling that way? That is no way to feel!”
Unfortunately we often speak harshly about our own feelings and the feelings of those around us.
God created us with feelings. They are a part of the human experience and so we really need to look at them first before changing or stopping them. God allows David a wide variety of feelings in the Psalms. In 139:21 David says, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?” In 55:4 he laments, “My heart is in anguish within me.” And in 55:5 he admits, “fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.” God seems to allow for feelings since he gave them for us to be whole. We often say at House of Hope that “feelings are for feeling not for fixing.” “Birds fly. Fish swim. People feel!” This is part of what it means to be human and fully alive.
But we don’t always allow ourselves such grace.
There was a time when I was in extremely emotional circumstances and during a talk with a friend, I felt reprimanded for some feelings that I shared. Another friend understood and empathized with me, telling me she could see how I felt like I did. I came away feeling accepted and understood. I was ready to go and deal with them, not to hide them because I “shouldn’t” be feeling them.
I believe that emotions are for us. They help us see what is happening inside us. They give us the opportunity to make a check of our hearts. In Psalm 42, several times David says, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” He is looking in, examining his heart and in the process he encourages himself to trust in God.
So the next time you are feeling, perhaps anxious, envious, hopeless, vulnerable, furious, impatient or uneasy, please take the time to examine your heart. Where are these feelings coming from? Is there another person involved? Feel the feelings that are there and let yourself know that you are willing to come alongside yourself to understand the feelings that you feel. Don’t condemn. Just listen.
I have recently heard of the idea of “sitting on a bench with yourself everyday.”
“Good afternoon, self, what is happening inside your heart today? Whatever is there, its OK, I’ll listen.”
After that little chat you’ll be ready to accept what you have been feeling and perhaps understand yourself more fully. When you are ready, changes can be made in light of the kindness you find.
It takes practice to speak-over the voices of our childhood caregivers or our own self-condemnation. But the voice of acceptance, love, and kindness is powerful and worth the work it takes to find.