Difficult emotions is something I have very little experience with. I’ve just started feeling all my emotions again, not just the difficult emotions. After running from them for so long, I had forgotten what they felt like. I used a lot of different modalities to run. Among them being, pornography, alcohol, eating and just plain being mean to others. When difficult emotions came up, such as fear, anxiety or sadness, it’s a safe bet that I was using something to avoid it. As my old co-worker and friend Melba would say, “it’s no easy”. And she’s right.
Running from my difficult emotions was not healthy. I saved up these difficult emotions until I released them in unhealthy ways as well. Anger for example was something I would hold onto and release in the form of cutting insults and condescending remarks. If you’re reading this and I’ve done or said something hurtful to you, let me apologize. I’m so sorry. I had no idea what I was doing.
You are What You Practice
This is something I’ve been skirting the edges of for a while, because I’m not sure it is really who I wanted to be. Not in a way where I’m trying to defer how I treated others by saying my intentions were good, but I don’t think I ever wanted to be, or be known as, mean. Or maybe more pertinent, bad-ass and callous.
I think what was so confusing for me was, that the more often I was mean to others, the more I felt bad about myself. I thought by acting superior to others, I would somehow be above the feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. But I was riddled with anxieties and the fear of not belonging. Which seems strange looking back because I was pushing everybody away with who I was acting as, what did I expect would happen? And all this because I was to afraid to stay in the difficult feelings.
Difficult Feelings: What Are They?
I imagine the difficult emotions are the same for everybody. The fear, the distrust and anxiety. The anger and the hate. The shame and guilt. We all feel them, but what makes them unique to our situation?
When I think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we don’t have a single way to handle these emotions that everybody is feeling. We’ve been dealing with them for so long that it seems someone should have found a way to “handle” that emotion, whatever it is. But the reason this is the case, I believe is, that everybody has a different origin story for their difficult emotional stories. Their own narratives.
What’s Your Story?
I believe that everybody has an original source and situation for where their pain comes from. We aren’t born mean or looking to harm others. It’s something that’s learned. Passed around from hurt person to hurt person. Just as the old adage says, “hurt people, hurt people”. I believe the source of our hurt comes from our initial, or most repeated infraction on our fragile selves.
This could come in the form of a constant stream of criticism from a parent. Or from years of emotional and physical neglect or abuse. Maybe one or more traumatic events happened through out our lives. Wherever the source comes from, the result is the same. We’re left with difficult emotions to process and feel our way through.
Running From Your Emotions
And if we’re not taught to handle or process these emotions using strong and healthy resources, the outcome usually isn’t good. I had picked up my care-givers’ tools for dealing with difficult feelings, the short list I listed above. But I wasn’t actually dealing with anything. These were the ways I was running from what would eventually catch up to me and lay me low without warning. I was only covering over what I didn’t want to come to terms with by pleasure seeking.
So when I was in a situation where I felt as though I were being judged, usually socially or with those closest to me, I drank. This helped to numb my experience of what was happening to me. Giving me a false sense of confidence that I used to judge others in hurtful ways. I wasn’t constantly living in a state of fear or anxiety, or of consistent judgements of others, but I was spending an awful lot of time there. And that is not a health head space to be in.
Superior or Insecure
Acting superior to others was another way of disconnecting from others and the possibility of being hurt by them. It was also something that was handed down to me by my caregivers. We had a sense of entitlement that was beyond reproach. We were just as flawed as everybody else, only we felt as though we were “better” in some way than what was happening around us.
I cringe a little now thinking about it, but I also understand the enormous amount of insecurity we were all feeling. Because when your self-worth hinges on one facet such as, how good you look naked, then being loved and accepted is an all or nothing condition. And that is a terrifying place to be. Especially if you’re being judged by your family in this way. So with so much working against us, how do we begin to change the ways we are acting in order to stay and feel through what we’ve been running from?
You Know Your Story, Now What?
Now that you’ve looked at some of the ways you were treated, which may have brought you to try and avoid the difficult emotions that resulted, the question then is, where do we go from here? Running hasn’t worked for me, so the natural solution I came to was, to stop the evasive tactics. I.e. the bad habits I picked up. Then I could start the work of changing the ways I handled myself by acting superior or being liberal with my anger in condescending ways.
Social Pressure & Fear
For me, being in social settings was something that triggered a great deal of insecurity in me. I felt so rejected by my care-givers, that the thought of being in a room with them while they pulled me apart like animals, flooded me with emotions of anxiety and insecurities of not belonging. Also questioning if I was even loved. If they even could love is something I’m coming to terms with now.
And when feelings of fear mixed with the thoughts that I was somehow offensive to my care-givers by virtue of being in their presence, were some of my first social cues, I would there after find myself questioning if I was wanted wherever I went. I was followed by a pervasive sense of self doubt in every social setting I found myself in. Never quite feeling as though I belonged.
This was usually where I would pick up a drink and throw loudly spoken opinions around. Numbing the fear while keeping others at a distance by belittling them and trying to make myself seem superior. This did not work however. And I found myself feeling more and more anxious the more I used these tactics to try and feel better about myself. So how did I stop the cycles or fear and anxiety in connecting with others?
Change What You do to Become Who You are
For me, I had to take stock of where I was in my life and how I got to feeling as anxious as I was feeling around others. I should mention that I still have feelings of anxiety in relationships sometimes. But it no longer overwhelms me as it used to. Leading to me drinking my way through them.
The first thing I did was separate myself from the social scene I used to be a part of. I took some time apart from the people that I had been spending most of my time with, to evaluate my relationships with and to them. How had I been acting around them and they me? Did I feel worse after being around them? When we were together, how were we connecting? Were they mean? Was I mean? Were we cutting others, or each other, apart to feel superior?
Or were we building each other up? Being a support for the other when dealing with difficult emotion and situations? Did we share our hopes and plans for the future with one another? Did we say and do thoughtful things for each other? Sadly the answer to most of the later questions were definitely not. Something needed to change.
What are Your Tools for Connecting?
Once I took stock of my relationships, I slowly released myself back into the wild one friend at a time. I got in touch with old friends and started rebuilding our relationships. Only this time I used a new set of tools to connect.
Listening was probably the most important of these tools. Inwardly and to others. In my past relationships, as I said above, I was loudly throwing my opinions up on whomever was around me. This left me unable to listen to what others were experiencing. But I was also surrounding myself with similarly minded people. Loudly validating whatever venom the other was spitting. This was something I learned from my care-givers as a child. Watching them do the same. Usually while drunk.
Listening & Responding
So I stopped forcing my opinion on others, and in the process changed some of my views to be more inclusive and kind. This was an added bonus to slowing down enough to listen to what the other was experiencing. But also, I was listening to what was coming up in me. This is the most direct way to learn what the other person is like. I was asking more questions, about their likes, dislikes, what their experiences are and stories they had to tell. This may seem like a basic friendship building block, but to me these were all new and exciting lessons.
I made it a point to share well thought out opinions and advice when asked. Instead of telling the person what was “right” according to me. Which was usually a blanket statement about how someone is, or group of people are or how they’re out to get us in some way. I was listening to and responding from my honest experiences. If someone had a question about finance, instead of me going on a rant about how the richest 1% are trying to control the world, I would ask what the specifics of their situation are. I listen inwardly to use my experience with debt and the info I had from the research I’ve done for myself and gave them an honest evaluation of what I think would be a sound and viable plan.
And I slowly did this with more and more people, until I found myself surrounded with friends that I truly felt a connection with. And it’s important to say that not everybody I reached out to was in a place to be able to connect again. We’re in different places and that’s something that I needed to accept while I’m rebuilding my burned bridges from past relationships. Not everybody is in a place to want to connect again. And that’s okay. There will be more people willing to step up and be a part of our newly renovated lives. Just from writing this blog, people have reached out to me that I never thought I would talk to again. And we’re better for it as well : ) Which leads me to another bonus of shifting our habits. Expect the unexpected!
I’ve only covered a small section of the feelings that may be difficult to stay with. I’ll be talking more about these in other posts. But know that this is a practice and something that takes a bit of time to feel comfortable with. It took me a great deal of practice to get to where I am and I’m still learning how to stay when it gets difficult. There’s a phrase in the meditation community that I learned from Tara Brach that goes, “sit, stay, heal”.
I think is a nice way to think of the practice of, not only meditation if you are practicing, but also learning to handle emotions. Especially if you weren’t given guidance in this area. So be patient, you’ll eventually get to where you’ll feel most at home in even the most difficult emotion. Peace & thanks for reading : )