It can feel scary to be with our feelings. The intensity with which we feel as humans can be disorientating. Navigating being in a body with a thought-feeling system can feel challenging. It is especially challenging when our nervous system reacts strongly. When this happens we can quickly lose perspective and get tangled in our conditioned responses. We can get flooded with feelings based on our historical experiences. Our thoughts in the moment reflect these experiences and our nervous system responds in kind. It is habitual and reflexive beyond our conscious control. Our nervous system is designed to keep us safe, but it is only as good as what it perceives. For example, several years ago our dog got bitten by a baby rattlesnake. Fortunately, she survived. Baby rattlesnakes are quite small and dark and can look like a stick. So I spent several weeks after that having my nervous system react to sticks as if they were rattlesnakes. It was doing its best to protect me and our dog, but it was mistaken. But all it could do is react based on the feedback my brain gave it.
What happens when we have unmet emotional needs as children is we make up beliefs about ourselves and we develop ways to try and soothe ourselves and keep ourselves safe. These beliefs are not true and usually involve perceiving ourselves as unworthy. The soothing and protection strategies we develop to cope with these false beliefs have downsides. They usually involve ways of distracting ourselves from being present with our experience as a way to escape suffering. This can look like getting lost in thought, lost in a show, lost in food, or anything that takes us away from the painful feelings of the negative beliefs about ourselves. We use our mind to escape the discomfort of how we feel from emotions in our bodies. As we get older addictive patterns can become the norm for how we try to escape our emotional experience.
This is all based on a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are.
The misunderstanding that we are not good enough is painful. It makes sense to not feel the discomfort of those feelings, but the challenge is, when we aren’t present, we lose touch with our inner guidance system that knows what is true and we have to rely on our intellect to try and navigate life. Our intellect can only provide us with information based on the past. It is not responsive realtime to what is happening in the now. Being able to be present to what is, even when it feels uncomfortable, allows us to wake up to what is true and free ourselves from the misunderstanding and limiting beliefs we made up about ourselves. When we are suffering the most on an emotional level is when we benefit from staying with our feeling experience and loving ourselves through it, not to dive into it, but so we can wake up from the misunderstandings that create the experience. At the time when we feel most scared of being overwhelmed and annihalited by our feeling experience is when we benefit the most from simply being with what is. And allowing the feelings to move through us. This is healing, stabilizing, and enlightening.
If when we were young we received loving nurturance as we felt our feelings and we were allowed to have our feelings, we would have learned that we are safe and secure when we are experiencing emotional upset.
We would have understood that our worth and value were not damage by having feelings and that we are not bad when we feel angry. We are not weak when we feel sad. We would have understood that are feelings are healthy and valid. They represent how our nervous system helps us to stabilize and give us healthy feedback about needing to soothe and comfort ourselves. However, even with parents with the best of intentions, most children do not have this childhood experience. As a result, many of us grow up feeling scared of certain feeling states and resort to coping mechanisms that take us out of the present moment when those feeling states arise.
This gets amplified in relationships. Put two people together in an intimate relationship and emotions are going to surface. Intimacy feels wonderful but it can also coincide with increased feelings of vulnerability. The more we attach the more vulnerable we can feel. We understand how much it will hurt if we lose the one we love. So we start to try and protect ourselves remembering the painful experiences we have had in the past and transpose our emotional history onto our partner. Our conditioning becomes the lens through which we view our current circumstance and we play out old narratives plugging in our current partner to the roles we have lived in the past. When we are settled and stable this isn’t an issue. We live in the present moment, have a clear mind, and see our loved ones clearly. However, when we get into a low mood and feel unsettled, we lose perspective and this is when we are most vulnerable to resorting unconsciously to our old coping mechanisms.
Fortunately, without having to go into the details about all of the various attachment styles and coping mechanisms or different ways unresolved trauma can manifest itself, we can look to the underlying solution for all of these situations. The common denominator is that by understanding that we are at our essence, whole and complete, and by understanding how feelings work, we can heal our experiences of trauma and wake up from the limiting beliefs that we innocently created. This is as simple as getting more comfortable with our human emotional experience.
We can learn as adults that we are safe with our feelings. No matter how intense our feelings are, we have the capacity to be with them and to be kind and gentle with ourselves while we are having them. This capacity of being with our feelings is healing. It allows us to stay connected with our deeper knowing within ourselves as we navigate our emotional experience.
We don’t have to do any extra work or study any special skills to do this. Being human gives us daily opportunities to be present with ourselves as we feel. Presence is a practice only because we have learned conditioning that has us not be present. Presence is an unlearning of the conditioning because it is our natural state. It is what we drop into when we allow ourselves to relax. When we drop into the present moment we feel the richness and aliveness of who we are. There may be emotions that arise when we do this. That is the health of our nervous system feeling safe and knowing that survival won’t be threatened by letting go.
Rather than learning a new technique for healing to take place, what we need is to see the importance of relaxing our bodies and our minds. Slowing down and being present is something we do naturally, if we see the relevance of it. Coming into the present moment supersedes our coping mechanisms and conditioning. We just need to respect presence. This requires an understanding of the value of presence, and we arrive at understanding through inner reflection and listening to our inner knowing. It doesn’t matter how it is done. There is no one way, what is most important is to get to know the voice of inner wisdom and listen to it. Let it be the guiding force in life. It has everything needed for healing and growth. And it is right here, right now, in this moment.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.