Fear of feelings

People are afraid of having feelings. I don’t really know if this is something that is true just for the western world or for humanity in general. But it seems we have gone out of our way to create walls for ourselves as a protection against feelings.

Really our battle seems to be with “bad” feelings. We are afraid of experiencing anything other than joy. But perhaps it is that very fear and the resulting behavior that causes the true pain.

Food is sometimes the cause and the cure of pain. I know several people who feel such anxiety about not having food when they are hungry that they constantly eat. These people don’t live in poverty. They don’t live in areas that are “food deserts.” They have easy access to any food they want at any time of the day or night. So what is the source of that fear? For some, the stated reason is that they don’t want to feel hungry. Hunger pangs are the surface reason. Waiting just ten minutes past a regular lunch time causes great anxiety. These are not people with a medical need to maintain proper blood sugar. There is something else going on.

I think that something else is a fear of feeling in general. We aren’t taught how to deal with our feelings so we stuff them deep down inside (literally) rather than letting them out. Feel bad? Have some “comfort food.” The bad thing is that just like with any other addiction a new problem is created. Your old problem is still there and you now have something else to contend with.

You may feel guilty for having eaten the entire bag of cookies. So you eat more. And then you feel not only mentally bad that you have no self control but you may also feel physically bad. You may start to gain weight. Then come all the subsequent feelings with that problem. Your knees hurt. You have a hard time bending. You get out of breath more easily. You start to feel trapped in your own body.

Then it becomes a really big problem with really big issues. You have slid further into the hole. Your “fix” is just digging you deeper. When presented with the way out it is normal to dig in, and with heels or forks it is the same. People want a quick fix to their problems. Perhaps this is just the American way. There are no repercussions. Eat whatever you want and then take a pill or have surgery.

The Y is a better choice than liposuction. Eating more vegetables and less fried foods is a better choice than a diet pill. In both instances you do many positive things. You get rid of the symptom of the flab. You also get healthier inside. Your muscles get stronger and you have more energy. You start to feel better mentally because you can see that you are losing weight but also you are burning off stress.

I know from personal experience that it is totally normal to not want to do the right thing. I remember when I first started to get healthy that I resented every carrot and every minute of exercise. Like a small child I wanted to just yell “NO!” every time I was confronted with the better choice. And I remember that every time I lost 5 pounds I wanted to celebrate by eating a brownie or four.

It is easier to eat yourself to death rather than face your feelings. It is easier to let the other person have their way and for you to remain silent and passive. It is easier, yes, but don’t do it. It is hard to make this change. But it is your life that you are saving. It is important. You are important. Your feelings and opinions matter. It is very hard to feel emotions when you haven’t allowed yourself to feel them for a long time. It is painful, and that pain often manifests itself in the gut. That feeling isn’t hunger for food. It is hunger – but hunger for self-awareness. It is the feeling of you waking up to yourself. It is OK to feel that. You won’t starve. Feel that feeling and then try something different, since what you have been trying all your life hasn’t worked.
Go for a walk. Write in your journal. Paint. Dance. Sing. Do something, anything that makes you feel really alive and happy. It is important to get those feelings out. It may look weird. It may not come out right the first time. That is OK. That is normal. Keep it up.

I remember seeing a child who was very frustrated and crying. He was loud. He was not happy. Things weren’t going his way. He had gotten to the foot-stomping and hand-swinging part. His parents told him to “Use your words.” What if you don’t have words? What if part of your frustration is that you don’t know how to say what is upsetting you? I think it is a good idea to learn different ways to communicate. There is a program where I live called the “Healing Arts Project” that teaches mental-health consumers how to paint. One of the clients said that “Art lets me say the things I haven’t got words for.” I think there is a lot of truth in that.

What you have to express is important. You are here because you are needed. You are giving the world a huge blessing if you share yourself and your talents. Go forth, and feel.