“Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.” ~ Ruth E. Renkel
For a deep feeler like me, the last thing I thought would heal my anxiety was embracing the discomfort of negative emotions.
Most of us grew up in a society that shunned us for having a deep emotional realm—or even emotions at all.
It can feel quite alienating when people tell you it’s “not that deep” and that you are feeling unnecessary emotions.
Layer that with deep empathy (being able to pick up on everyone else’s feelings) and past experiences that made you feel like an outsider, and you end up with a cocktail of social anxiety, living in a stress response, and even experiencing high functioning anxiety no matter how successful or happy you may seem.
This was the story of my life until I decided to start working on myself.
Here’s what I learned in the past six years of diving deep into my inner world.
Firstly, feelings are not something we are meant to heal. Feelings come to heal us. Our emotions are always guiding us and teaching us something about ourselves. They actually lead us to more balance and wholeness, if only we’d listen for the lesson.
For example, if you find yourself coming back to a feeling of anger time and time again, it’s because there’s something to heal there. Perhaps there’s a hard conversation that needs to happen with someone (you know, the one you’ve been putting off for weeks or even months?) or even a boundary that needs to be placed.
There was a time in my life when I was constantly saying yes to everyone who needed my help. I thought it made me a good person. But what was happening deep inside my world was that I was afraid of being rejected if I said no. I was scared that people would stop loving me.
The truth was, I didn’t have the capacity to say yes to everything and everyone. It was difficult, but there was a day when I finally had an honest conversation with my family about how overwhelmed I was feeling, and how I felt spread so thin.
Before this conversation, I would be stuck in a cycle of saying yes to things I didn’t have the capacity for, followed by a stirring anxiety and brewing anger that would eventually get too big to hold inside. This is when I’d blow up in a fit of frustration and blame my exhaustion on everyone else.
This could’ve been prevented if I had just had an honest, openhearted conversation. And when I did, I was surprised to find out that the people around me were mostly understanding. They just didn’t know—and couldn’t know—how I was feeling prior to the conversation.
Even though there was resistance to opening up a dialogue about how I was feeling, the discomfort subsided when I allowed myself to express what was on my heart.
This is just one example of how embracing uncomfortable emotions can heal our deeper anxiety, stress, and overwhelm. Because when we are radically honest about our inner world, and actually acknowledge what’s going on within, we no longer suppress and run away from our emotions.
The more we try to avoid our emotions, the more they build up and cause even deeper anxiety and overwhelm. As we acknowledge the beautiful world of feeling within us, we are guided into more balance within ourselves and our relationships.
Again, we don’t heal our feelings, our feelings heal us.
Secondly, our inner world isn’t a battlefield. If an emotion is coming up, it’s not as scary to face it as we think it is. The fear of our feelings is what keeps us away from feeling whole within: when we reject an aspect of ourselves, we start creating an inner world that feels broken and separated.
I remember when I was younger, I had a recurring nightmare that a “bad guy” was chasing me. I’d run around for miles and miles just trying to get away from him. But he was always right behind me, running at my speed. One day, for a reason unknown to me, my dream self decided to turn around and see who he was. It ended up being a normal guy. He walked away as soon as I faced him.
This is a great metaphor. The thing we’re avoiding is usually not as daunting as we make it out to be. As kids, we used to think there were monsters under the bed at night, but once we took a quick peek under the bed, we realized that we had made them all up, and we could go to bed peacefully.
You are capable of facing yourself: it’s not as scary as you make it out to be.
There is also a great myth in the personal development world that once you do the inner work, you get to live happily ever after and you never have to experience pain again. This could not be further from the truth. This can even be a detrimental belief that can cause us to judge any discomfort we may experience.
This brings me to the third and final point. The truth is, we’re not meant to live in pleasure and comfort all the time. In fact, I’ve known people who’ve chased an only pleasurable life and have realized in the end that what they were actually looking for was inner peace.
Pleasure and inner peace are different things.
Living in peace often comes with some resistance at first because we’re not used to it. Peace can come with discomfort. Pleasure usually doesn’t.
Please don’t confuse pleasure for peace.
Pleasure is awesome in little bursts, but inner peace is what fuels us and sustains us.
Most times when I talk to people who “don’t have energy,” it’s not because they need more time or more pleasure, it’s because they need more real peace and joy in their lives. Inner peace can look like going for a walk in nature, writing poetry for fun, getting creative and really using your hands to create something (pottery, knitting, painting, and so on), or playing with our nieces and nephews.
It’s those simple joys that make up our days and moments, and it’s exactly these activities that our mind might not want to take part in. Our mind can easily think of a million other things we need to “get done” and prioritize everything other than peace. This is why it’s important to break through that initial resistance so we can create a life that is based in true joy and peace.
Though it took some time (and many of the same patterns resurfacing), I’ve learned to face myself and get comfortable with discomfort. As long as you are willing, you have a superpower within you, and that is the ability to be there for yourself.
I live with significantly less overwhelm and anxiety, and I know it’s because my inner world was screaming to be heard and seen for so long, and I finally decided to turn around and face the “bad guy,” who wasn’t bad at all; he just wanted to be acknowledged.
It is only with great kindness, understanding, and compassion that our anxieties can soften. And the only way through it is through it.
And thus comes the great lesson: that in order to be at peace, we must face within us all that is not peaceful.