I can’t remember ever sitting with my pain for more than just a few hours.
The instant my painful emotions amplified, I’d rush to dress them up with more pleasant ones. I gave myself a hard time for tears, confusion, anger, dejection, or any other mental state that contradicted “happiness.”
I thought it was wrong to feel anything other than bliss. I was unaware that I was lying to myself the entire time, and that the “bliss” I forced myself to feel was really misery in disguise.
It all started when I began moving toward a path of self-love. Along this journey, I’d always ask myself, “How would you treat a loved one, Elyane? Now, treat yourself the same.”
Then, I asked myself if I’d treat “me” the same way I’d treat a loved one in pain. Because, even though I would support them and be gentle with them as they pass through their challenges, I couldn’t do the same for myself.
This is when I discovered that the resistance I usually build around my negative emotions is actually a shield with internal blades—it’s only hurting me. I was oblivious to the fact that simply sitting with my pain is, in itself, healing. Nobody ever told me that the most precious gift I could give myself is the permission to feel…everything.
Resistance and repression have become the norm in our Western culture. Not only do we build expectations around people, but we also build hazardous ones around ourselves. We seek fulfillment, gratification, bliss, and peace—and we fight any other emotion that comes to the surface.
We assign a label to every undesirable emotion we feel. If we cry, we think we’re weak. If we’re sad, we think we’re being negative. In other words, we feel bad for feeling bad. What an endless loop!
As the Buddha taught, feeling bad for feeling bad doesn’t solve the problem. He clarified that emotions are an essential part of who we are. If we are keen to work with them, we must connect to them. If we resist our emotions, the emotions persist. However, if we work with them, we can turn them into a source of wisdom and clarity.
What happens when we repress or resist a painful emotion? Misery is the byproduct of emotional repression. Masking the pain varies from a person to another. Some people do it through alcohol or recreational drugs, while others may do it through shopping or traveling. When we resist a painful emotion, we basically brush it under the rug.
However, it is imperative to know that the pain really hasn’t gone away.. It’s only dormant, and any outward factor can easily trigger it again—we might enter a destructive relationship, someone might push our buttons, or we might simply have a “bad hair day.”
Below are a few steps that can help us sit with our feelings more:
Be willing to work with your emotions. The same way we dedicate time to look after our physical appearance, we have to make time for our emotional self. Just like we would stand in front of the mirror and groom ourselves, we should sit and be willing to watch our emotions as they arise and pass away.
Understand how the majority of us have been brought up. There’s a pattern—a habit—that we must break. Our society is constantly forcing us to look good, be good, and feel good. Notice the advertisements, and you will know what I’m talking about. Realize that the only “perfect state” we can ever reach is to accept all our imperfections.
Meditate. Are you familiar with meditation? Meditation teaches us to observe and to face our emotions in their undisguised condition and accept them as they are. Practice mindfulness, as the Buddha taught. Coming back to the present moment requires no effort—only willingness.
Do this whenever a painful emotion arises. Whether you’re crying, angry, sad, depressed, or confused…sit. I’m not kidding. Literally sit on the couch, the bed, or a chair. Feel everything. Feel the tears, your pounding heart, your wretched thoughts. Observe them without judgment. Let them be. Breathe, accept, become friends with your “terrible” feelings. If you truly allow yourself to experience all without mental intrusion, you’ll feel as if a weight has been lifted off your chest.
Honor your sh*t. Yes! When you honor your pain, respect it, and grasp that it’s part of your human experience, the pain decreases on its own. You will heal faster than you think. Don’t force yourself to be anything other than what you are right now at this very moment.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Catherine Monkman