Why it's important to feel your feelings
Every now and then, I just need a good cry. I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve been having a hard time lately. COVID has meant that my partner and I haven’t seen our families in over a year and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve hung out with friends since March 2020. On top of that, my partner and I are struggling with health issues and what that means for our future.
Sometimes it feels like these emotions are too big for my body, for my soul. But then I remind myself that they cannot be too big for me because they are of me.
Emotions are like waves. They come and they go, they move us around, sometimes dipping our heads beneath the water. Sometimes they are intense tsunamis, overwhelming us, and knocking us off our rafts. Other times, they are tiny swells, coming and going in the blink of an eye. Sometimes they’re unpredictable, while other times we might be able to see them coming. Every now and then, the storm of our experiences means we are facing wave after wave after wave of emotion.
Maybe it’s possible to swim to calmer waters (read: exit a bad relationship, create and maintain healthy boundaries, develop sleep and movement patterns that feel good.) But a lot of the time, we don’t choose the waters we’re in.
When we find ourselves in choppy waters, we have two options: we can battle the waves, fighting against each and every one, resisting the movement and motion; or we can move with the waves, leaning into them and riding them out.
Fighting against the waves may work well for a time. But we inevitably find ourselves exhausted and bogged down, and the waves can overwhelm us. We snap or scream at the people around us, we feel out of control, we hurt so bad that we vow to never feel this way again… which eventually brings us right back to the same spot.
In learning to ride out our emotional waves, we can take each one as it comes, feel it rise and fall, and eventually move beyond us. Riding the waves of our emotions helps us to feel less overwhelmed and gives us more control over how we respond to our emotions.
When I fight against my sadness, I tend to get angry. My pain sours into resentment and I take it out on the world and people around me, sometimes in ways I later regret.
When I allow my sadness to come, I feel what it means to be human. I notice the prickling behind my eyes, the tightness in my throat, and the pressure on my chest. I notice the heaviness in my limbs and the hole in my heart. The tears come and I allow them to fall. I name it as sadness and I feel it.
And just as my emotion welled up inside of me, it eventually fades away.
The more practiced I’ve become at noticing, naming, and feeling my emotions, the more quickly they tend to pass. It doesn't necessarily make my pain any less intense, but it acknowledges that pain is part of life and I can handle hard things without making them worse.
I’m not the type of person who finds crying cathartic. It dries up my contacts, makes my eyes puffy and red, and inescapably results in a raging headache the next day. Crying doesn’t feel good, but it does feel good to feel.
Every now and then, you might need a good cry, too. And that’s okay.
Charlotte McKernan is a couple and individual therapist in Fort Collins, CO