Knowing How to Attune to Our Feeling Selves

I grew up in a family that never spoke about their feelings. That’s not hyperbole, we never spoke about anything really. But feelings were especially taboo. If we view feelings and emotions as a language to convey and communicate our needs, we were deaf and mute. It has taken me decades, fumbling around with and trying to understand this language, that had eluded me and my caregivers for so long. So now that I’ve grasped the basics of my emotional language, I’m realizing how understanding and knowing how to attune to our feeling selves and connecting with my emotional states, are intertwined with self-care. 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 comes as second nature. Then that’s great. But if we’ve experienced trauma and we’ve been disconnected from our feelings 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. 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 whom 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 patients. If we’ve grown 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. At the places we feel are “unlovable”. Because if we didn’t have these “unlovable” places, we would logically be loved by our loved ones. 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 myself and my emotions and those of my caregivers. And I felt so much of my belonging hinged on their approval. Their good 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 a sense of being loved and feeling belonging. 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 patients felt again, it was meditation, yoga and running that helped me practice and foster a place for patients to grow in defiance of the fear. And it wasn’t easy. I had put off feeling a lot of 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, something I’m still coming to understand. 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 as I’ve said, 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 has 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 these difficult feelings. 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 along the way. These are the tools I’ve found to be helpful to attune and reconnect with our feeling selves. Thanks for reading, peace : ] Image Credits:“LISTEN” by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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