I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. But I’m in recovery – joyously.
We all do it. At some point in our young(er) lives, some experience leaves us hurt, jaded, traumatized. Our primitive, protective lizard brain kicks in and decides that ALL emotional experiences are painful – and must be avoided. As we go through life, every time we experience negative emotions, and DON’T process and release them, they become trapped. These trapped emotions become the bricks we use to build walls around our hearts.
These heart walls are meant to serve a specific purpose: protect the heart from the aches and pains of life.
Keep the bad stuff out.
But think about that for a moment. If the walls were built to keep the big, bad, scary, painful stuff out…how is the great, amazing, beautiful, joyful stuff supposed to squeak through?
We carry around these walls with us, and when we get hurt, it’s a duller ache. It’s not the sharp, stabbing pain we felt with that first shocking experience. We tell ourselves it’s better that way.
It’s truly a double-edged sword. While we dull the pain, we also dull the shine. The bright, glorious moments become a little less invigorating. The love that’s given to us is deflected. The joy we experience loses its oomph.
That initial decision was made on our behalf to protect us. The message was very black-and-white. Extreme emotion sucks. Feeling intensely sets us up for failure and heartbreak. The higher the high, the lower the low to inevitably follow. But life isn’t made to be experienced in various shades of muted grays.
It’s so much better in technicolor.
What would happen if we didn’t numb out?
What if we didn’t choke back emotion any time it threatened to creep up on us?
As I’ve embarked on the journey of tearing down my heart walls for good, I’ve found that waves of poignant emotion washes over me at unexpected times. During Hallmark commercials, while editing photos, watching cheesy movies. In notes from my kids, inspirational videos gone viral, and holiday traditions. I feel my eyes well up with tears, my throat weakens, my stomach flutters.
What’s my instinct in these moments? Blink away the tears. Clear my throat. Sit up a little straighter. Change the subject.
I caught myself doing this, and in that awareness, I cleared the way for something magical: the chance to do it differently.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes. I said a silent blessing…Thank you, dear Life, for the beautiful power of emotion.
And then I vowed not to numb out next time it comes on. Just once, I would let it hit me, full force. No holding back. No shame, no questioning.
Before long, I saw a commercial that was filled with home videos of little kids opening gifts – and the overwhelming joy, the innocence of their open-heartedness, the enthusiastic gratitude…it triggered something in me, as a mom, as someone who recognizes that total abandon. I felt the emotion coming on, the tears behind my smile, the catch in my throat. And instead of choking it back, I welcomed it. I opened my heart and leaned back into it. Let’s ride this wave.
It was beautiful. The emotions swirled around me – THROUGH me – and I allowed myself to fully feel it. Immerse myself in it. Instead of drowning, as I had feared, I found that it was exhilarating to surrender to it. It was as though my emotional muscles were stretching, drawing out all the tension and releasing years of latent energy.
I’m pretty sure I grew a few inches.
I rode out the wave, I felt it to my core. As it dissipated (and it always will), I was left with a sense of peace and quiet joy. It strengthened my connection to my inner self. I checked in with those pesky walls, and felt no resistance around my heart. I wasn’t left with any lingering residue – the kind that lurked in the shadows of the half-felt emotion. In allowing it to flow through me completely, I had let it serve its purpose and move on.
The only thing left behind this time was a clarity I hadn’t felt before. A lightness I had been seeking. A sheen and a sparkle I hadn’t seen before. And an excitement for the next chance to fully experience.
So think for a moment about how often you choke back emotion. How quickly you shake off the feelings. How easily you distract yourself from feeling anything. And then ask…what if you didn’t?
How would it feel if you let yourself FEEL?