Why do people tend to avoid feeling their feelings? It has everything to do with our early experience in life – what we learned and what we didn’t learn. As I talk to people across the nation,
most people agree that they didn’t really learn how to make good use of their feelings when they were growing up. What they did learn was how to avoid certain feelings.
* “It’s not okay to be angry.”
* “Don’t feel excited about yourself.”
These are the some of the common messages that we heard about our feelings. But, what about how to make good use of our feelings? Unfortunately, we didn’t get that primer.
In recent years, through the field of affective neuroscience and child development, we have learned a lot about how the brain grows, develops, and changes. We’ve discovered that the first three years of our lives is a critical period in which our brains are growing at an extremely rapid pace. It’s also a time where emotions are our only form of communication.
When we’re infants we don’t have words. Our main form of communication is through our emotions. We’re happy, we’re sad, we cry. It’s how we let our caregivers know how we’re feeling. We’re also extremely attuned to our caregivers reactions and learn so much about our emotions through our experiences with them.
Many of us grew up with caregivers who themselves weren’t comfortable with the full range of feelings: theirs as well as others. As infants, we pick up on their discomfort, it feels scary to us, and this sense of danger gets associated with our feelings, and, ultimately, wired into our brains. Remember, our brains are developing at a rapid rate during this time.
The consequence is that, based on the reactions and the experience we have with our caregivers, we end up feeling uncomfortable around certain feelings, feeling fearful of them. That whole experience gets laid down in our neuro-circuitry. It’s wired into our brains. We end up carrying that experience forward into our adulthood.
We also then have all the cultural messages which serve to reinforce those early experiences that we had:
* “You need to be strong.”
* “It’s not okay for women to be angry.”
* “It’s not okay for men to be vulnerable or to show fear.”
We end up responding to our world in a fearful way based on early experiences and cultural reinforcement.
We have a feelings phobia. Think about the other more obvious phobias and how we respond- whether it’s a fear of heights or being in close quarters – we tend to avoid the things that we’re afraid of. As a consequence, we never get the experience to overcome our fears.
Pretend for a moment that you have a fear of walking over bridges. You can think about crossing over that bridge as much as you want, but change doesn’t really happen until you confront your fear and find a way to cross the bride. If we can find a way to reduce our anxiety and take the risk to move forward, we can begin to overcome our fear. The more we’re able to cross the bridge, or confront whatever we’re afraid of, the more our fears melt away.
Change doesn’t always happen merely by trying to think differently. Due to the way that the brain is wired, our feelings can be much stronger than our thoughts. If you’re wired to feel afraid of something, trying to think your way through it is not as effective. When we have new experiences and we’re able to open up and regulate our anxiety, we begin to change on a physiological level.
Opening up to our feelings and learning how to regulate and tame our anxiety changes us. By taking small steps to open up, we can build the capacity to be with our feelings. It’s like you’re developing a new skill; and just like any other skill, you need to do it, practice it, and work at it in order for you it to develop, become second nature, and to feel good about it.
Try that with one fear that you have this week. Take some small steps to get a new experience around that fear. It will give you the courage to move past obstacles that may have been stopping you for years. montreal home care service