(Originally published on MindBodyGreen 5/21/14.)
In the healing world there seems to be a general consensus that feelings are meant to be embraced, fully entered and wholly felt. “The only way out is through,” as it were.
For the most part, I agree. As a body-centered psychotherapist, I often talk with my clients about how the human organism works, and how feelings are designed to come up and out (while helping my clients become aware of where and how they interrupt these biological processes, and thus their contact with life).
I do believe that leaving feelings stuck, frozen and unfelt can diminish and contort how we experience ourselves in the present, causing us emotional suffering and even physical illness.
But not all feelings are meant to be felt. Any negative, self-hating thoughts or feelings are NOT meant to be indulged.
If you feel disgusting because you ate a doughnut this morning, you don’t want to steep yourself in that experience. If you feel a nagging sense of worthlessness inside of yourself, you need to run interference with that when it comes up.
The feelings of self-hatred may feel full-bodied and undeniable. That doesn’t mean that you go down that road. Your job in that moment is to put down the thread and walk away. Your job is to INSIST on treating yourself with kindness and respect.
This matters because if you are on the path to your higher Self, to greater awareness and self-knowing, indulging your self-deprecating feelings will stunt your growth. They are road blocks, contractions, snarls on the path. To indulge them drains your power. You are so much brighter and bigger than that voice will give you credit for.
Here’s what you can do:
1. The first step is to notice.
Try to breathe a sliver of space in between the shitty thoughts you are thinking about yourself and your experience of them. Try to gently catch yourself. You might observe, “Wow, I’ve been telling myself I’m stupid for what I said to my boss for last two hours. OK.” The more you can engage the neutral observer in yourself, the easier it will be to notice the thoughts and stop them.
2. Stop the thoughts!
It may sound silly, but try to imagine a stop sign when you see your mind heading for the rabbit hole of self-hatred. Imagine you have an invisible bubble around you that doesn’t let toxic energy or thoughts in. Hear the mocking words you are saying to yourself, and imagine they are sliding off that bubble, unable to penetrate and reach you. Find an image that works for you.
When you're coming down hard on yourself, a great way to save yourself from this torture is to stop what you are doing and breathe. One to three deep breaths will connect you to your body and help it relax.
4. Use a mantra.
While you're breathing, repeat the words, “I am valuable, lovable and whole. Even though I'm not perfect, I love and accept myself.”
When it comes to feeling your feelings, discernment is key. There is an art to navigating and utilizing emotions, thoughts and feelings.
Discomfort is often a powerful source of information for what needs to change in your life. But some discomfort is overt or subtle self-flagellation.
Try incorporating one of these steps and see what happens. Be extra gentle with yourself. You are valuable, divine, worthy and whole. Treat yourself accordingly.