By Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC
Posted on April 18, 2021
Welcome to Q&A Today, a column designed to answer your questions regarding challenges and concerns in everyday life, from family to coping with current events. A popular topic today revolves around the coronavirus. All questions are fair game. Just send me an email with your questions or concerns, and watch for the answer in upcoming editions of the Tasmanian Times. Q&A Today is published on the first and third Sundays of the month. If your question is printed, only your first name will appear in this column.
Q: I am finding loneliness to be an overriding, permeating experience for me. I believe it is because I don’t open up to others. I can discuss facts that don’t involve me all day long, and can talk about other people’s personal issues. But I’m uncomfortable expressing my emotions. I find it easier to push past the tough feelings, like when I’m hurt or angry and instead soldier on by focusing on chores or work. I try to put painful events behind me rather than get all worked up.
But those that are close to me feel a disconnect by my reactions. When they pursue a matter with me that touches on my personal feelings I tend to respond with rationalisations, excuses and explanations, which they find annoying. Sharing my feelings is a struggle, but others expect it of me. I don’t know how to move forward. Thanks in advance for your suggestions. – Jennie
A: Dear Jennie,
You’re not alone in your uncertainty of how to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Allowing ourselves to think of painful feelings, especially those of anger and hurt, can be exhausting, confusing and scary. Sometimes we’re afraid of how others will react, other times about how we’ll feel. This fear can create a barrier that numbs us, preventing us from even being aware of our feelings.
It is human nature to tend to avoid that which we fear. But if we avoid painful feelings we run the risk of behaving like the turtle, which retracts into its shell at the moment it senses discomfort. The stories, defences and justifications we create in our heads to distract us from facing our true inner feelings can cause us to be like the turtle; stuck in our tracks, unable to move forward, and not engaging with our environment.
Facing the fear of your feelings takes a lot of courage, because in doing so you may encounter aspects of yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge. What might these disappointments be? Maybe you’re not truthful at times? Jealous of others? Maybe you have been selfish or lied at the expense of someone else? Accepting yourself as the wonderful yet imperfect person that you are is to allow yourself to accept your shortcomings as well as your strengths.
It can be scary to push yourself to experience your emotions the first time; and even the second and third. But somewhere down the line you’ll soon discover that you don’t fall apart. On the contrary, by doing so you’ll be honing a valuable skill in befriending your feelings.
You’ll see not just the perfect side of yourself but also your shortcomings and vulnerabilities, and your kind as well as caring side. When you drop the guardedness against being hurt you’ll be open to broadening your perspective on life. You’ll find that being in touch with the feelings that hurt do not inhibit you, but rather, provide you with the ability to grow your insights about yourself and become more capable of understanding similar feelings in others. You can’t do that when you are guarding your feelings. This understanding of others will enhance your connections.
How comforting it is to know that you don’t have to keep your pain at arms length. Start practising your goal of moving away from your safe place of stuffed feelings with someone with whom you feel comfortable. As your comfort increases it will be easier for you to open up and push past your fear. You’ll find that you not only connect better with yourself but also with others. You’ll find yourself more empathic towards others. A mutual trust will grow.
Life will be better for you and you’ll feel less lonely. You’ll be in harmony with your values, you’ll feel better understood by others, and you’ll finally feel closer with others who are important in your life.
Wishing you well,
Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC is author of Overcoming Adversity: Conquering Life’s Challenges, by Australian Academic Press. Eileen is a life and business coach and public speaker residing in the United States. She has spent her professional career working in medical and psychiatric hospitals and in her private practice, counselling people experiencing emotionally traumatic events.
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