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Different Strokes for Different Feelings

Tom Rhodes, MFT
Feelings show up, they come, they go. This is an inevitable part of life, of being human. To the degree that we fight them, we suffer, either in the moment or later on. 

-Tom Rhodes, MFT

Author: Tom Rhodes, MFT
Feelings show up, they come, they go. This is an inevitable part of life, of being human. To the degree that we fight them, we suffer, either in the moment or later on. Another inevitability. However! We have choice here. I just want to remind you of this, because I want you to feel alive and fulfilled in your life, as I do for myself here in this one. There is tremendous amount of energy and aliveness in these feelings, and it requires at least as much to push them down.
In short, there are two primary ways to approach, meet, or navigate our rich emotional world. Just like there are different ways or degrees to which one can pull up a weed, so it is with digesting a feeling. Depending on where we’re at or what we’re doing, i.e.– at work, in the comfort of our own home, with a good friend or with someone we don’t feel particularly emotionally safe with, we have a choice regarding how we want to engage and relate to our inner world of emotions. Depending on what need may be foreground in a given moment, we may choose to set aside a feeling, meet it head on, or perhaps even redirect our attention while fully knowing the feeling will come back later at some point, to be met when we’re feeling more ready to meet it. 
So again, there are choices. It can be very helpful, including calming to the nervous system, to take just 5 seconds when we’re not up for consciously feeling through something, to just place the hand on the heart, take a deep breath, and tell yourself, silently or aloud, that this feeling is valid, allowed to be here, and that ‘I will come back and address it later’, i.e.-when I get home from work, or when I get this work task done and can go sit in the bathroom for a few minutes, or, whatever may be the scenario! It’s kind of like telling a partner when the anger is building up to a degree where communication breakdown feels inevitable, that you need to take a walk and get some space, but that you’ll be back in an hour to continue the conversation. Sometimes it is helpful to treat our individual feelings that show up as entities or children unto themselves. Isolating them prior to diving in and feeling them fully can be a very helpful way to get grounded first, and then embrace them from that place I sometimes call ‘the ground of being’.
Finally, it might be helpful to give a specific scenario here, to role play feeling something through once you are in a place you feel safe enough to do so. Here is the scenario, and an example of how the feelings can be met:
You get an email from a friend. You’re at work. You have a lot to do. Ugh. The nature of the email is such that you suddenly feel overcome with a moderate amount of anger and hurt. Since you’re at work and have a lot to do, you apply the above-mentioned 5 second surrender exercise, taking a deep breath and placing your hand on your heart if you’re comfortable enough to do that at work. You honor it, let it/yourself know that you’ll come back to it later. Twenty minutes later you’re finished with the work task, and have a few minutes to take a ‘bathroom break’, killing two birds with one stone here! Sitting there, you revisit whatever feelings are there when you focus on them again, take a few deep breaths, feeling the physical sensation of the feelings as the breath moves through your body, some anger streaming through your arms, fists tightening a bit, mouth pursed. Then comes some hurt, a bit deeper. A wave of sadness washes through your chest, a tear presents itself, mouth is downturned and there’s a sense of heaviness. You begin to notice that you’re feeling very energized and alert now a moment after that, just two minutes or less after you first sat down. You’re now feeling mildly overcome with a sense of well-being, openness, and aliveness. You know that when you respond to the email later, or perhaps a phone call, you’ll be in touch with what you need from this friend, directly from that spirit of self-honor, care, and love, which you actually feel a bit toward your friend now too. Later on you talk it over more with your partner first when you get home, in the meantime having processed it even more, simultaneously while working in the afternoon, in the background. Our brains and emotional bodies can co-process things sometimes, quite miraculous! Some of us are better at this than others. Finally, in the evening on the phone with your friend, you’re feeling very in touch with your needs of self-expression and to be understood and empathized with, as well as with your friend’s need to feel seen and valued by you. This conversation brings you closer. Even though there were a few somewhat uncomfortable moments earlier during your phone conversation, you hang up the phone feeling enriched, at ease and deeply alive. The end.

Tom Rhodes

Tom Rhodes

Tom Rhodes is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. He specializes in working with people who suffer from anxiety or whose very identity is being called into question by the current circumstances of their life.

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