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February 17, 2021

When the Emotional “Shame Train” Arrives.

All aboard the emotions train.

I feel, but it’s not who I am.

“Being grateful, being positive, being healthy, does not mean we never feel angry. Being grateful, positive, positive, and healthy means we feel angry when we need to.” ~ Melody Beattie

Some people may think that me being so positive all the time is fake. That this couldn’t possibly be how I am all the time.

And the truth is, I’m not. Sometimes I fall down, I feel angry, I feel discouraged, and I get my heart broken.

But I also know my emotions are not a permanent part of me; they are something passing through me.

I know it’s not forever. I always have a choice of what I want to do when an emotion comes—how long I invite it to stay.

Here’s how I see it:

Imagine being at a train station, you hear a loud whistle, and a train shows up in front of you. Pretend that train represents the emotion of disappointment.

Now you can either pretend the train is not there (nothing to see here folks!), you can get on and let it take you for a wild emotional ride, or you can simply say to yourself, “Hmm…it looks like the disappointment train is here” and start to get curious about why.

Go inside. Look around. Ask yourself who or what is in that train car? Is there music playing? Is there lighting or a place to sit? Or is a just a bunch of crates and boxes?

Let yourself explore it without judgement or attachment, then get off that train, wave goodbye, and let it leave the station.

Get curious

Now it’s time to analyze what you experienced. Sometimes that emotion might make sense. Sometimes it might be something really old or confusing, but it’s coming up because it’s ready to be looked at.

The important part is knowing that when an emotion shows up at your train station, your job is not to get swept up by it. Name it, acknowledge it, feel it, and then let it go.

I always say feel what you feel when you’re feeling it. Otherwise, you might have a lot of old ghost trains showing up at weird and inappropriate times, and you’ll find yourself crying during an Oreo commercial.

Here’s an example of how I practiced this in my own life:

Every once in a while (normally around PMS time, ha!) I get this feeling out of nowhere that I’m in trouble, or that’s I’ve done something wrong.

When it happens, I always think, “What the hell, Lorena?” because I know I’m not in trouble—this thought is entirely fabricated by my mind.

The shame train and my little girl heart

So why do I feel this way? I’m curious, too, so I’ll climb aboard this “shame” train and see what’s inside: 

I try to tap into these feelings, and the first thing I notice is they don’t feel like me—who Lorena is now. They feel like something from a younger, little Lorena. I recognize her immediately, and I am glad she is here. Because I’ve actually named that part of myself my “little girl heart,” and I’ve been working on listening to her and loving her more.

So I ask myself, little Lorena, “Why do you feel like you’re in trouble?” I close my eyes and listen intently. And I tell myself,

“It’s because I don’t understand how who I am is of value. This world is so confusing, and I want to be good so that people will like me, but I always end up feeling bad or wrong about myself. I couldn’t possibly be liked for just being me. I have to over-give or be overly available or make myself into who I think they want me to be in order to be valued. Feeling valued is like a trick, and it’s always out of reach.”

I then ask myself one of Byron Katie’s four questions: is it true? 

No, it’s not true, and it’s never been true. I see now how I caused myself pain because in earlier years because of these thoughts.

But I also know that right now, my experience is a career that values me because of exactly who I am, friends who value me because of who I am, and the more I let myself be “me”—let others see me—the more I love and appreciate myself.

And maybe those feelings are coming up because I’m finally ready to let go of them. They’ve probably been waiting a long time in my train yard to be acknowledged.

So, I thank you, little girl heart, for showing me what is still taking up space in my heart. And I know right now, I’m ready to clear those things out to create space to make room for better things.

When we are little, we come up with ways to understand the world or protect ourselves, but those mechanisms are based on who we were and our limited ability to process our experiences back then.

And until we let those things come to the surface, all of that is still floating around in our heads, affecting us in ways we aren’t even aware of.

And I’m in no way saying this is easy. Sometimes, something comes up that we don’t even know how to begin to look at. It might be a scary-looking haunted train that no way in hell are you going on!

When that happens, acknowledge that it’s there and then reach out to someone you trust to be there with you. Work through it when you’re ready. If that’s a therapist, a parent, or a friend, don’t do it alone. But I promise you that doing the hard work is always worth it.

As a final note, I want to remind you that emotions aren’t always bad.

I know the painful ones might draw more attention to themselves, but we feel love, joy, excitement just as often.

And it’s just as important to acknowledge the good stuff when it shows up.

Good luck exploring yourselves, my friends. Do it with love and kindness.

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