Inviting feelings in; OR sending them away
I love watching the synchronized swimmers in the Olympics. They make the sport look fun and easy, while really they are feverishly moving body parts under the water to make all of that graceful coordination effortless.
A similar thing happens with our emotions, although what the spectator sees is not always graceful coordination. It might be a sarcastic response, tears, shutting down, or an angry outburst.
Our feelings can motivate our actions. Sometimes we respond to people and circumstances in our lives because parts of us are feverishly in motion under the surface. Often we are not even aware of this movement. Sometimes these feelings are themselves reactions to thoughts we have or traumatic experiences in our past. Sometimes one feeling may be obvious to us, but it is hiding other, deeper feelings.
A strategy I like to use with feelings is to visualize them as characters arriving to my house. I have the power to invite them in or send them away. The point is, I acknowledge them. I see them. I wonder why they are on my porch.
Here’s how this might play out. I am imagining someone who struggles with overthinking and perfectionism in this scenario; which is probably an experience many of us can relate to.
Say “Overwhelm” rings the doorbell. You might picture Overwhelm not as one character but as an unruly bunch of toddlers all demanding for attention. They have real, critical needs. Some are fighting, some are screaming or crying, some have poopy diapers, some are hungry, and as a whole, they are overwhelming. Letting those toddlers into your house would be disastrous and it would be very difficult to figure out how to take care of them all and find a shred of peace.
The presence of Overwhelm on your porch indicates that you might need to take a closer look at your porch and scan for other feelings. This is hard to do through all of those toddlers, but when you do, you see Self-Judgment, and immediately wonder how you could have missed her? She looms larger than life, loudly listing all the ways you are falling short from her clipboard. Now, you can see that Anxiety is there, rocking frantically in the rocking chair and wringing her hands.
Then you see her – hunched in the farthest corner of the porch is Inadequacy. Her head is down and she is hoping and praying to remain unseen. She has heavy packages with her, burdens she carries everywhere she goes.
You scan the porch for any other feelings. You had no idea that all of this was going on under the surface! Now you have some decisions to make. What to do with all of these feelings?
You thank Overwhelm for alerting you to the presence of the other feelings on the porch and politely tell those toddlers they can leave now. You are not so polite with Self-Judgement. You know from experience her friend Shame is likely to arrive in a hot minute. You firmly tell Self-Judgement to leave or you will call the police. You tell Anxiety to take some deep breaths and maybe go for a walk to clear her head and enjoy the sunshine. “It really is going to be ok” you tell her and remind her of her past successes with getting through rough days.
You consider inviting Inadequacy in, because you notice that you feel slightly protective of her. As you do so, you notice a new feeling on your porch. Self-Compassion. She also goes by the name, “Grace.” She is not so much a character, but a warm glow. You watch as she says a few kind words to all of the other feelings, and they dissipate, going their separate ways. Inadequacy lingers, perhaps still hoping to remain unseen. But Self-Compassion sees. She invites Inadequacy to rise to her feet and shake off the burdens she carries. Even just getting rid of one will make her load lighter. She reminds Inadequacy that God’s grace makes up for any ways she falls short, quoting 2 Corinthians 12:9,
“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”
Inadequacy decides on her own that she can leave the porch. She drops some rocks from one of her burdens as she walks down the sidewalk.
You invite Self-Compassion in, but not before you notice Clarity also standing on your porch. She appears wise and crisp, dressed in a white business suit (I am picturing Helen Mirren playing this role). You gladly invite her in, too, and ask her, “Now, what were we doing before all those toddlers showed up?” “What is most important to do next?” Clarity’s close companion, Peace, has also arrived. Predictably, Peace has a hippie look to her – flowing and happy; unrushed and calm. She is also a welcome guest as she helps you see that your life does not need to look like a perfect, synchronized production to others. It can just be what it is.
It takes some work and intentionality to cultivate this practice of slowing down our feelings. If we want to effectively manage them instead of letting them manage us, we need to do this work. It can be helpful, and often necessary to have someone come alongside you as you seek to identify what’s on your porch and then figure out what to do with it.
At Sanctuary Christian Counseling, we can help you make sense of the feelings on your porch. Give us a call or shoot us an email. 717-200-3158 or email@example.com.
In addition, EMDR is an approach that is very effective in helping to work out those feelings that are informed by trauma. Jennie, the author of this blog, is Sanctuary’s EMDR therapist. Here’s a link for more information about that.