Emotional Strength Training
What do you do when your feelings get hurt? Well, let me tell you what didn't work for me recently, and what did.
Building emotional strength takes intentionality and practice.
When I discovered that someone who once played a pivotal role in my life excluded me from something important (sorry to be so vague: protecting the innocent and such stuff), I pretended that I didn't care.
I told myself that ...
... I didn't want to be included anyway. ...I would probably have done the same thing to them if it had been me, so I had no right to be upset. ... I really didn't care.
But, I did care.
I didn't want to care. I hated the fact that I cared.
Painful memories related to this person and this particular situation surfaced, but for a while, I successfully pushed them away.
Squirming away from my feelings, I worked hard to avoid my hurt:
I tried to dismiss it and move on.
I didn't want to be impacted by this person's choice.
I didn't want to give them the power to affect me.But, hurt feelings kept nagging at me. Since avoiding them wasn't working, I tried to escape by going into my thinking mind.
Theory #1: Feeling bad means they are bad.
"Seriously? Leaving me out is so typical. Just like them. Just evidence of all the reasons why I, too, have imagined leaving them out of things. They are so passive aggressive and so stunted and so damn indirect.
No wonder our relationship is as disconnected as it is, I don't want to spend time with them anyway. I should feel relieved that I am not invited because who would want to see them anyway?"
The theory here is that vilifying the other person will be a good antidote to feeling bad.
Although thinking in this way increased my level of self-satisfaction and superiority, it really did not alleviate my hurt but merely distracted me from it temporarily.
Theory #2: Feeling bad means I am bad.
The theory here is that I deserve to feel bad because I must have done something wrong. Feeling bad is seen as the result of having messed up in some way, so maybe figuring out what is wrong with me will avoid future hurt.
So, I began to judge myself.
"I brought this upon myself, if I had reached out more often I would have been invited. If I had been nicer to them, shown more interest in them, extended myself to them ... if only I had catered more to their needs and worked harder to become what they needed me to be ..."
This also did not work. Hurt still simmered.
In fact, all this judging was just kicking up more distress. Look at that.
Noticing my old patterns of resisting my feelings by analyzing myself and others to death, I knew I needed to change course.
I called a friend and surrendered my defenses. I simply hurt. No need to add everything else.
The truth is that we cannot think our way out of our feelings. Not really. If not now, they'll be back later. With even more intensity. They always catch up.
When feelings arise, what if we just feel them, on their own terms?
I turned my attention inward and allowed the tears to well up. I felt my heart break (yet again). With the help of empathic friends, I acknowledged the power of my longings, the limitations of this particular situation, and just bobbed about in the waves of sadness that washed over me.
After a while, these feelings simply subsided, leaving an inner calm inside me. Openness. Space. Clarity.
In this new space, I began to see my caring as a sign of my strength. I was still able to be impacted by this person because I had not shut down my heart to them.
I realized that I had not allowed our history to make me brittle, rigid, defended, self-righteous or fragile. My commitment to allowing the hurt, processing the hurt and coming out on the other side, left me stronger, more courageous, more open-hearted.
I felt empowered and free.
So, what do you do when your feelings are hurt?
Allow: Let your feelings arise and follow their energy.
Accept: Stop fighting and resisting them.
Embrace: Give them a hug. Greet them with curiosity and compassion. Listen to what they want to tell you about your deep values, your deep needs.
Your feelings carry a message for you about your light, your goodness, your longings.
Allow. Accept. Embrace.
Guidelines for Emotional Weight Lifting.
Don't do it alone: you'll need a friend to spot you in case the weight is too large to lift alone. Empathic companions are key.
Discipline your attention to your feelings and your body sensations. Your mind wants to escape the feelings by keeping you focused on thoughts of wrongness: don't feed the swirl. It won't help.
Although it may feel uncomfortable, bringing your presence and awareness will build your emotional strength and your capacity to stay in the moment.
Allowing, accepting and embracing all feelings actually leaves you more connected, more open-hearted, and more empowered.
Try it, and let me know how it goes.