I grew up in a family that never spoke about their feelings or how to attune to them. That’s not hyperbole. We never spoke about anything really. But feelings were especially taboo. If you view emotions as a language to convey and communicate needs, we were deaf and mute. It has taken me decades, fumbling around with and trying to understand this language. Something that had eluded me and my caregivers for so long. So now that I’ve grasped the basics of my emotional language, I’m coming to understand how knowing how to attune to our emotional selves and connecting with my emotional states, are intertwined with self-care.
Self-Care and Our Emotions
For some (hopefully most), this is not new news. Knowing how you’re feeling at any given time and then being able to respond appropriately in the moment to your emotions hopefully comes as second nature to you. But if you’ve experienced trauma and you’ve disconnected from your emotions and body, then reconnecting is no easy task. Even if you haven’t experienced trauma, but have been under chronic stress. Then attunement can be a chore as well.
So how do we begin the work of reconnecting to our emotional bodies? So we can better attune to our needs and foster the emotional space necessary for self-care? For me it started with finding patience.
I remember the day clearly that I found the emotional space to hold difficult emotions without reacting to the discomfort I was feeling. I was waiting for a woman who I loved and we were running late for something. A situation that would normally invoke irritation in me. But I found the space to let the emotion be, while focusing on how I really felt about the person. The love that was at the core of our bond and not the irritation that was transient.
And it’s important to note that the irritation was still there. Only it wasn’t stronger than the feelings of love and patience. If we’ve been brought up in families where we feel like a burden, or we’ve been neglected, we can internalize those as signs of there being something wrong with us. And if we’re not told and reinforced that we are loved and belong, then when the people who are supposed to show us love are instead filled with contempt, we may take on that contempt and aim it inwardly. Usually towards the places we feel are “unlovable”. Because if we didn’t have these “unlovable” places, we would be loved.
Forgetting Who I Am
This was how I lost track of who I was on an emotional level. With so much neglect and contempt, I was constantly looking for a way to feel part of and
accepted by my family. I took everything personally because I didn’t know how to draw clear boundaries between my emotions and those of my caregivers. Because I felt so much of my belonging hinged on their approval. Their good or bad moods, the ones that I may or may not be responsible for. I was constantly in tune to them. Even their slightest of shifts could fill me with fear.
But along the way I learned to stop listening to my own wants and needs. For instance I didn’t really know how I was feeling most of the time. But I also didn’t even know if I was hungry or tired. I did learn how to push myself beyond my limits though. Mostly fueled by coffee, to keep me going during the day and beer to slow me down at night. This was how I learned to ignore the most basic of my needs. To feel loved and belonging.
Learning to Listen, Learning to Attune
There was a lot of confusion and fear without a doubt. But it wasn’t hopeless. If it was the love of a woman that allowed me to understand how patience felt, it was meditation, yoga and running that helped me practice and foster a place for patience to grow in defiance of the fear. And it wasn’t easy.
I had put off feeling a lot of my emotions. And when I sat down to learn how to feel again, they all came flooding back in. It was overwhelming for sure. But they needed to be felt. And there was a learning curve. Understanding how to let in a metered amount of emotion while learning what my limits are is something I’m still coming to understand.
Overcoming Our Barriers
Running and yoga
helped me to understand how to push my boundaries and limits in a healthy way. To build resilience. The reason these methods were so helpful was because it was tough work being with my difficult emotions. Running and yoga mirrored the difficulty of being in a difficult emotional state. But it also gave me a sense of being physically capable of overcoming obstacles. Barriers that were holding me back from being wholly present in my body. Either during a difficult workout or sitting with a difficult emotion. And what’s more is, I was stronger after the effort. On the other side of my physical and emotional barriers.
And it seemed insurmountable at times. But it was and is possible. And coming to terms with unfelt emotions doesn’t solely lay with those of us who have experienced trauma. In the day to day, so often we put off things that we see as being difficult. Talking with a friend or family member that have wronged us to some degree. Or apologizing to a coworker we may not like when we know we’ve been insensitive. Both examples of ways we avoid difficult emotions.
Practice and Be Forgiving
And the more we practice coming home to the space where we put unwanted feelings, what we’ve been avoiding, the more we show ourselves the patience and kindness that are necessary for self-care. Much like my workouts, the work you put in, is the resilience you receive.
And what holds it all together is practice. Especially when it gets difficult. Those are the times where we need to double down, hold in just a little longer. And be forgiving if we don’t feel we’ve lived up to our standards. If you’re like me, you’ve probably set the bar too high to begin with! And it’s a practice anyways. We’re never really done with the work of living, so why beat ourselves up for not getting it “right”. Or just the way we want it?
Practice kindness to yourself, be patient with yourself and forgive yourself and you’ll learn to attune to yourself. These are the tools I’ve found to be helpful to attune and reconnect with my emotional self. Thanks for reading, peace : ]
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