I was 15 years old the first time I consciously felt anxiety and had just started my sophomore year at a new boarding school. The souring in my stomach and the fear that blinded me was terrifying. So I bolted down the stairs of my dorm, and headed straight to the vending machines. I wanted to push away and bury all that anxiety and uncertainty.
By October, I’d gained twenty pounds because I didn’t know how to deal with dark emotions like: discomfort, anxiety, pain, anguish, frustration, resentment…
It took me 10 years to learn how to be present and experience these uncomfortable feelings.
Now when they come up, do I like it? Not really.
Is it fun? Absolutely not.
Is it worth it? Definitely.
And here’s why – because you can’t heal something unless you allow yourself to feel it.
If you're ready to open up and move through your own emotional pain, here's a road map:
1. Make Space
Be okay with whatever you’re feeling. Allow it to be in the room, to be in your body.
Instead of trying to push the uncomfortable feeling away, avoid it or, like I used to do, stuff it under food, allow it to exist. Rumi’s Guest House poem is the perfect reminder. In it, he describes himself as a guest house – opening the door and welcoming all visitors (his emotions)- whatever they may be, and inviting them in. Here’s a link to it.
2. Give Yourself Permission
It’s okay to have bad thoughts, cruel thoughts, unkind thoughts. We all do, we’re human! Give yourself permission to just feel what you feel. Mad at yourself or another, rage, vindictive.
When I was a girl, my mother used to say, “you’re not responsible for your feelings, only your actions.” Maybe at times I did want to kill my sister but I never actually did it.
3. Release Judgment
Part of why we don’t even allow ourselves to feel dark emotions, is because we immediately judge ourselves. The inner critic starts, “don’t think that” or “who are you to…” or “you shouldn’t feel angry about that because…”
Try allowing yourself to experience anger, hurt, jealousy without judging it – no inner critic, no running dialog. Just feel it and see where that takes you.
Do this without judging it or you.
4. Get Dirty
Once you make space for these dark emotions without judgment, the real work begins. Dig in. What is the source of the frustration? Hurt? Anxiety? What does it trigger or link to? See if you can find the root, because that is where the healing is.
As a teenager, my anxiety got triggered because I felt stupid, inadequate, not enough. Sometimes these same ghosts pop up when I try new things, take risks or new chances. Today, I sit with that feeling of inadequacy to see where it takes me. Usually it goes back to childhood where I can love the little girl and cherish her.
5. Let It Go
Once you’ve processed those uncomfortable feelings, you can release them. As we free up these internal spaces, we make room for more clarity, more energy, more focus and power. It’s like cleaning house, internally.
The real work of our lives is to be present with our own beings – when we feel elated and blissful as well as when we feel frightened and insecure. Allow it all to be. Experience the good and the bad, knowing that every moment offers insights and lessons. Heal and keep opening to life, to love and to you.
Life is a process requiring us to constantly open. Open to our own inner beings as much as anything else. Take some time to explore your triggers, the places where judgment and anxiety lie. What lessons are waiting there for you?
The work may not be “fun” but it is powerful and transformational and SO worth it.