How much do you practice clearly seeing your challenging feelings as a first step?
I’m not talking about feelings like “I don’t feel good” or vague ones like “I’m feeling down.”
In fact, please take a moment to find some of your commonly felt feelings in our Introspective Guides that will help you identify 75 challenging feelings and 75 healing qualities/needs. This will help you be more specific in seeing that you’re feeling anxious, angry, irritated, helpless, sad, etc. Similarly, the specific qualities will help you narrow down whether you need respect, trust, communication, empathy, honesty, etc. It is a critical part of healing to be able to be specific. Conversely, being vague about your feelings poses a significant danger— it does not support you in moving in a clear direction toward healing.
Appreciating clarity of thought about our feelings
Another part of being supportive of yourself is appreciating when you see your challenging emotions clearly. Instead of having an inner voice that says, “Oh shit not that one again,” we need to grow our appreciation for clarity and honesty.
Changing our inner thoughts might sound like, “Thank god I can see clearly the nature of my suffering and have a direction to move toward the needs that will help me.” This sounds simple enough to say to yourself, but almost all of us are conditioned to believe that we want to feel good almost all the time. As a result, we all have a reflex to react negatively to challenging feelings or simply want to let go of them. Learning to have a deep respect for this awareness is a central part of the healing.
This sounds like an obvious part of living an authentic and meaningful life, but it is often missed no matter what kind of life we live. Instead of getting annoyed or suppressing it when we discover a difficult feeling, wisdom is recognizing that we are discovering something that has real potential to be the starting point of fulfillment of our most essential needs.
It is a helpful self-illumination to see how much you have been able to operate at two levels at the same time or at least as close as possible:
- Feeling the challenging feeling with awareness
- Focusing on what will move you in a healing direction (either simultaneously or quickly after)
A real-life example to help put this into perspective:
Claudia, my client, had a phone session with me during a holiday break. She was incredibly sad and overwhelmed. She had been in a year-long relationship with Richard, possibly the best of her life. At Christmas, when her kids were visiting, it was their first opportunity to meet him.
She had a prior history of two marriages where both of her partners were fathers of one of the two kids. She had a very challenging childhood history, which affected her choice of partners (as it frequently does). She was an extraordinary mom dedicated to her kids, despite her choice of marriage partners with serious problems. She also was a successful therapist helping hundreds of families do what she hadn’t been able to do in her family. This is much more common than you might think.
The husbands she had chosen were very unreliable, self-centered, addicted to a variety of drugs and alcohol, and unfaithful as well. Yet, despite their obvious glaring limitations, Claudia kept trying to make the kids feel closer to their fathers even though the fathers were really unprepared to take on the role.
In addition, she had another relationship after the two divorces with a man named Bill when the kids were still in their teens. She pressured them to try to be close to him as well. This resulted in a lot of alienation, struggle, withdrawal, and heartache for them all. She had brief conversations about this with them afterward, but she never had depth conversations about their feelings to really give them a chance for them all to move on in a more healthy way.
This is so critical for all of us to see if we have created a place and space to communicate following any kind of trauma or injury. It also is something to understand how common it is in intimate or attached relationships to be in repetitious patterns (or the exact opposite) from early childhood yet still be able to live a good or even great life out in the world.
I am guessing as you read this, you will see many examples of this if you look, perhaps even in your own family. It was a setup for what was about to occur, and it clarified how important it is to take care of our human feelings and needs or how it so frequently gets bottled up in destructive ways.
As Claudia’s kids came into town, they were very skeptical of her current love relationship with Richard. They had a lot of resistance to even wanting to meet him, even though they had been told about the clear differences between the past relationships and this one. It was clear to me that with the good work that she had done and from what I witnessed in their relationship, Richard and Claudia’s closeness and communication was a quantum leap from her past and, frankly a mini-miracle, given her background.
Given that Claudia and Richard lived 50 miles apart and were spending 3-day weekends together, arrangements needed to be made to try to set up a meeting. Her son said abruptly one evening that he had one hour that he would make available and announced this on the right before the last day the kids were staying in town.
Claudia was devastated as she genuinely had dedicated her life to them. She believed she had done her best in her direct relationship with the kids.
I suggested that Claudia would have to wait before expressing her own needs. It was vital to have a conversation with the kids, inviting them to share feelings they had from the past about how they had suffered due to her choice of partners and giving them an open space to express whatever they needed to.
This led to them getting together that night, allowing them to express their angry thoughts and feelings, including their grief with tears and agitation.
Her kids asked her,” . . . how could you expect us to ever respect you?” and “Why do you think we would want to meet someone else after what we’ve been through?”
After the children could say what they wanted, Claudia apologized profoundly. This led to a catharsis of emotion on everyone’s part across a range of emotions, including raw anger and enough silence to feel everyone’s pain.
When this was clearly expressed, Claudia was then able to share her need to be trusted and respected enough to be given a chance the next day for them to meet someone she truly loved. She spoke from her heart and asked them to consider being more flexible the next day.
Only due to the sensitivity of taking care of a sequence of needs — first to address the kids’ suffering and then being able to feel empathy for Claudia’s dedication, did it create a natural opening for the meeting and the beginning of a new life of greater trust.
Much time has passed since then, and the closeness of that next day was a glimpse into a new level of trust and love for the whole family.
Considering sensitivity to the expression of needs
As you read in Claudia’s story, we all need to realize that it isn’t as simple as just discovering our needs and asking for them. There are at least two people involved in all of these situations, and it is one of the greatest challenges to discover how to best prioritize the expression of needs —yours or the other person’s.
Many times this will be the difference between a breakthrough and a disaster. Please take a moment to pause here and let yourself look at unresolved parts of relationships in your life and consider whose needs might need to go first or if it’s best to express them in the same time period. This is the subtlest point in the above example — virtually all of us will have a parallel dilemma, if not several, that is similar.
Hopefully, as you read this story, you can see a variety of needs and reflect in your life on the sequence of needs that would give you the best chance to get closer to someone that matters to you. This isn’t usually obvious and requires letting in at least two sets of needs.
This is an evolutionary stage of development as many of us have yet to learn to identify our own needs, let alone others’. It is a stage of setting up potential breakthroughs whenever we ask:
“How can we take care of both of us?”
It is even more likely to work if the sensitivity to the natural progression exists. After all, no two situations are exactly alike.