Carefully, I turn my emotion-bus around a corner. Eyes on the road, destination in mind, I check the GPS. My passengers are subdued and well behaved, chattering softly amongst themselves.
A truck behind me starts to close the distance between us.
“I don’t like the look of that truck,” calls Worry from their window seat. “It’s driving erratically.”
“Shush!” I call to Worry. “Just think about nice things.”
“Pull over!” cries Fear from the back. “It’s not safe. That truck is too close and we could get hurt!”
“Fear is the opposite of Love!” I call back. “Courage conquers all things!”
The truck gets closer, flashing its lights and honking aggressively.
“What the actual $%&!!” shouts Anger, fists clenched, jumping out of their seat. “That is not okay! What a #$(%)!”
“Love, light, and compassion!” I yell at Anger, silencing them. No need for that kind of negativity in my bus!
The truck slams into us, and the bus goes veering off the road, skidding to a halt and toppling onto its side. We emerge, battered and bruised, from the wreckage.
“Now look what you’ve done,” sneers Shame, while Anxiety does a slow clap.
Feelings as messengers
There are many ways to drown out negative feelings. You can eat or drink them away, numb out with distractions, or push them down and deny them entirely. We all use defence mechanisms like these from time to time, and they’re not always a bad thing. Sometimes when feelings are really overwhelming, it can be helpful to moderate them.
If you put your hand on a hot stove, the pain tells you that something is wrong, and you recoil. Likewise with your emotions. They’re unpleasant because they’re trying to get your attention and tell you something is not right, something you may need to address.
Now don’t get me wrong… it’s ill advised to let Fear or Anger steer your bus. They’re terrible drivers. But the information they have might help you choose a better path to your destination.
Next time you feel something unpleasant or painful, could you turn towards it instead of away? Could you be curious about what that feeling is, and what it wants to tell you? What if, instead of trying to silence it or be rid of it, you stopped and listened?
Could you take a moment to locate that feeling, and examine it with gentle curiosity? Could you sit with it, like a non-judgemental friend, and invite it to speak to you about its concerns and needs?
Perhaps fear would tell you about unhealed childhood pain that it doesn’t want you to repeat.
Perhaps anger would tell you of your need to enforce boundaries and be true to yourself.
Perhaps sadness would speak to you of needing comfort, a moment to slow down and process a loss, so that joy can be restored.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Let go of the expectations and stories, and invite emotion to speak. Be patient and welcoming.
Scan your body. Do you notice anything? Any tensions, tingling, or tightness? Heaviness or lightness? Rest your awareness on that feeling. Be present, without trying to change or control anything.
See what bubbles up. Welcome all information. It might be words, memories, or images. Maybe colours or smells. Perhaps a shift to a new emotion.
You may want to ask it curious questions. What is it I need to know? What makes you feel this way? What is it you need from me? Don’t be discouraged if answers don’t come every time. Your compassionate presence is enough.
Of course, there are sometimes feelings that are too big to handle alone, that threaten to overwhelm us, feelings that have taken on a life of their own and are not able to just whisper to us. In cases like these, a therapist can help you hold space for those feelings, and assist you to understand and integrate them. You can think of your therapist as a fierce ally who’s got your back; someone who’s familiar with this territory and can support you when it’s all a bit much to tackle alone. And when you do discover what’s under the unpleasant feelings, they can help guide you through healing those rifts so you can move forward.
Gestalt therapy focuses on awareness of the present experience, from where shifts and changes become possible. It’s experiential, with a focus on the here and now, and on empowering you to take the reins of your own life. To talk to us about how we can help you befriend your own big feelings, click here to request a free consultation call so we can discuss your needs and match you with your perfect supporter.