As a Life Coach, I talk a lot about “processing” emotion. It’s the equivalent of exploring the deep dark places in your psyche that you tend to avoid on a regular basis, all for the sake of being able to move past whatever it is that’s blocking you. And though not at the top of anyone’s list as a favorite pastime (because let’s face it – feeling, especially negatively, can be about as much fun as a trip to the dentist); I stress the importance of it to my clients often. Because even though it’s not fun, it is necessary if we intend on living the kind of lives we all want to live.
Oddly enough, even though I know the importance of allowing yourself to process, and understand completely the benefits of it, doesn’t mean it’s easier for me to apply to my own life when the time comes. Sometimes it’s so much easier to teach than to apply.
I’ve been wrestling with some of my own emotional baggage lately that I haven’t felt quite like dealing with and it surprisingly took my 8-month-old daughter Taylor, to remind me that there is a better way than stuffing it down and pretending it doesn’t exist.
It all started when a large part of my family came to town – my parents, three aunts, and an uncle to be exact. They were visiting from Minnesota and I was thankful that the California weather cooperated enough for them to enjoy some sunshine after gladly leaving behind snow banks and freezing temps. And though not quite swimming season yet, my aunt had no reservations about taking full advantage of the sun and lounging in the pool. Yes, I said IN the pool, not BY the pool.
This is just one example of why I love my family. In every get-together you can expect the unexpected. In fact, it’s not uncommon to get stares from outside onlookers as they observe the laughter and commotion that goes on during public outings with the whole group. It’s quite a spectacle, but not annoyingly so. It’s more the kind of fun that is involuntarily contagious in an “I’ll have what they’re having” kind of way.
There’s a never-ending emotional high that happens when we’re together. Good conversation, stories new and old, and laughter ’til your sides hurt are plentiful. It’s easy to be addicted to the goodness of the group. And since we live so far away from each other, I tend to soak up as much of that goodness as I can while they’re around. Unfortunately, the fun can’t last forever and once everyone returns to their normal lives there is an emptiness left in the wake.
And that’s where I’ve been recently – in the wake.
Normally, I would have enjoyed the ride while it lasted and then settled back into my everyday life. But this trip was different. The reason for this trip was to say goodbye to my grandparents, both of whom we lost in the last year and a half. The very people who shaped what this family is all about.
Having lived in Calistoga during their retirement, their final wish was to have their ashes scattered on the mountain just beyond the town limits. My great-grandparents owned a cottage on that mountain and it’s where my mom and her five brothers and sisters spent many a summer vacation.
This trip had a different kind of meaning because it was the end of an era and held a finality that I wasn’t yet ready to embrace. I missed both of my grandparents’ memorial services due to circumstances beyond my control and there has been a sort of gnawing in my heart ever since about never finalizing my goodbyes. This was supposed to be that time, but I wasn’t ready.
Then everyone left and it got worse. No more grandparents. No more family. The high I was on quickly deflated and I was confronted with a wave of sadness that hit me out of nowhere.
In essence, the emptiness I felt after everyone left was just an extension of saying goodbye to Gram and Grandpa – now everyone was gone and the emotion of it all seemed too much to bear all by myself.
What really threw me was the intensity of my sadness and I tried my best to hold back the tears each time they welled in my eyes. I started rationalizing that it was silly to be so sad. It wasn’t like I was never going to see my family again. In fact, I’m planning a trip to the Midwest in just a few short months, but somehow, that didn’t make me feel better.
I’d fold a load of laundry, start to cry, then beat myself up for being an emotional wreck. The day continued in that fashion … starting to cry, trying my best to hold back, and then beating myself up until finally Taylor gave me a much-needed reminder about allowing myself to process what I was feeling. At 8 months old I’ll say she is wise beyond her years … simply because she doesn’t know any better.
Having recently learned how to crawl, I sat watching her explore the family room with new newfound mobility. As she moved around she became increasingly brave venturing into new corners of the room she’d never been. She eventually made her way over to the fireplace hearth where she unsteadily tried pulling herself up to her knees. Realizing she didn’t know how to get back down on all fours, she did the first thing that seemed logical … she let go. And of course, fell face first into the stone step she had been holding onto. it took one half of a second before she let out a bloodcurdling scream and came crawling back to me for comfort. I picked her up, cuddled her, and let her cry out loud until she was done, which was only about 20 seconds in total. Once the crying was over she looked up at me, smiled, let out a sigh and reached out to the ground below so she could continue her exploration.
I immediately noticed her ability to bounce back so quickly. She was happy while she explored, she fell, she felt hurt, expressed her hurt, and then felt happy again to explore some more.
As adults, how many of us don’t even think about processing our emotions that quickly? When something bad happens we stuff our feelings away as though they don’t matter and act like whatever happened didn’t affect us at all. Instead of allowing ourselves to feel hurt or cry or get angry, we do our best to “get over it” as quickly as possible so we can move on with our lives.
The problem is that “getting over it” is nearly impossible if you haven’t given yourself the opportunity to process the corresponding emotions with the situation. It’s a downright risky move. Risky because you inadvertently take all of those unprocessed emotions with you to the future and they show up in other places when you least expect them. In fact, those emotions become a part of your story whether you intend them to or not and you begin to view the world just a little bit differently.
I needed that wake-up call.
After putting Taylor down for the night, I gave myself permission to cry as much and as long as I wanted to. The sadness of my family leaving was just the tip of the iceberg. Years of memories and love for my grandparents pushed their way to the surface; things I haven’t allowed myself to feel in the time since they passed – the way my Grandpa grinned when he knew he’d pushed my Grandma’s buttons; the way my Grandma’s blue eyes lit up when she saw me.
It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. And I’m sure it won’t be the last time I cry about it, but because I gave myself that moment to just feel and not care that I was blubbering all over my pillow, I automatically felt better. The goal in learning how to process your emotion is not to solve any sort of problem. It’s simply just to feel. To let yourself go to the deep dark place you don’t want to go, because it really is the only way to feel better. I know it sounds backward, but trust me it works.
I guarantee it won’t ever be my first choice to feel hurt, sad, angry, rejected, etc., but I’m learning that if I don’t give my heart the time and space to feel those things as they happen, I’ll never be able to move on and have the kind of existence that I really want.
Ironic that it took someone who can’t even speak to remind me of that.
So, what about you? What emotions have you been carrying around with you that need to be set free?
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Welcome to Chasing Possible! I'm the author and creator of this site. A place to share insight, wisdom, and a little bit of humor about the every day "stuff" that makes us human. I'm a wife, a relatively new mom to a baby girl, and a life coach by profession. I'm passionate about learning how to step into my full potential and teaching others to do the same. I love running, yoga, laughing, and making up silly songs for my daughter. I have a tendency to think too much, not sleep enough and genuinely love with all I have. I hope you find a little bit of inspiration and a whole lot of hope from visiting this site. Enjoy!
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