“I’m drowning in an ocean of pain. My husband says that I have no reason to be in so much pain over these little things. And if I cannot get them under control, he says he’ll have no choice but to leave to get away from them.”
The tears, her slumped shoulders, the deep sobs between choking out the words were all evidence that she was truly drowning in an ocean of pain.
What’s the difference?
What do we do with them?
All questions I’m asked on a weekly, if not daily basis.
However, when someone is drowning in an ocean of them, it’s not the right moment to answer such questions.
Instead, it’s the right moment to hear about the feelings, what’s going on, and why someone is drowning. It really is dissecting a person’s “overwhelm” with them.
Multiple times weekly, I hear reports of broken people being told their feelings are wrong, or even that they shouldn’t be feeling these feelings.
Being told such falls into the category of “negative control.” Being told what we should feel and how we should feel it. Or not feel it. It’s hard work reclaiming and refocusing “our” feelings, but I never tire watching liberty fill a person’s eyes and heart when “they” gain understanding and feel more in control.
My client pled, “Are my feelings wrong? Please tell me! I don’t want to feel this way…But I don’t know how to stop it!”
Feelings are neither good, nor bad.
They’re neither right, nor wrong.
Some people say feelings are what we experience internally, and emotions are the motions we make with our facial expressions, our body language, our voice, our tone, our volume…it’s what we do with them…how we act them out.
However, when you’re drowning in an ocean of them, we’re often unaware how we look or sound.
I told her, “Your feelings are not wrong. They’re not bad. But the crucial question is … Are they healthy?”
When emotions or feelings are operating from the place of being gifts, they are always healthy, even though they may not feel good in the moment.
But the moment your feelings or emotions are not leading you to the very best version of you, they’re no longer healthy for you (and certainly not for anyone else).
For example, experiencing pain when we’re grieving can be a very healing thing. The pain may not feel good, but it helps us grieve a loss and find new hope.
The problem for most of us, and certainly for my client drowning in an ocean of pain, is that we often find ourselves “stuck” in a feeling.
The moment we become …
- Stuck in anger
- Stuck in pain
- Stuck in fear
- Stuck in any other emotion…
They’re no longer healthy for us.
Because many people come to me, stuck in an emotion, I want to walk you through how you can dig through this layer that keeps your champion buried. This layer of feelings that keep you from connecting deeply and intimately with those you love. This layer that keeps the very best part of you (who so desires to live and thrive) from coming forth.
This week I’ll be sharing with you how I helped my client work through this layer of feelings, hoping that it will set the stage for you to work through yours too. And find the thriving life that you so need and so deserve.
1. IDENTIFY THE FEELINGS IN YOUR LAYER.
After listening to the ocean of pain that my client was stuck in, and validating her, I began to understand why she called it an ocean.
Her last year had been filled:
- With her husband threatening to leave, and in fact, he did leave multiple times.
- With financial distress.
- With harsh and hurtful words and yelling matches.
- With accusations that pummeled her character.
- With mocking that made her feel crazy.
- With lies.
- With excuses.
- With addiction.
- With begging for help in total despair. (Only to be stared at as if she were a creature from another planet).
- With broken promises.
It’s no wonder that she was drowning. I heard and saw the pain.
But I asked her, “Can you tell me about the fear?”
At first, she was a little surprised at the question, and seemed to be having difficulty identifying fear.
Then slowly, words begin to form.
- The fear of when he would leave next.
- The fear of the next words that would slice her confidence and dice her self-esteem.
- The fear of the next binge with alcohol.
Her discussion went on about the fear that she had not previously even been aware of.
Then I asked her to tell me about the anger. Once again, she had not even considered anger to be a part of the tumultuous waves in her ocean of feelings.
After some additional thought, she said: “I’m angry that he says such horrible things, and then says he was glad he did it … because it made him feel better.” The anger was mixed with pain.
The talk about the anger was quite extensive.
Layers of emotions come from various places. But staying stuck in those feelings, whether you do it by justifying or denying…Or whether you’re just overwhelmed with them…both are equally unhealthy.
Before you can ever even begin digging through this layer, you must be willing to identify and acknowledge these layers.
There’s no need to defend or explain the emotions. Owning them and acknowledging them is half the battle. It’s why people who tend to pour their emotions out, even sometimes in inappropriate settings, find it easier to heal. Because they’re not resistant to owning them.
If you have close relationships with people who really know you, not the public version of you…the day to day, moment to moment you…Ask them what emotions they see in you that seem to be a struggle (even though you may not even be aware of them). If you have a healthy relationship and they can help you see these layers of feelings without judgment, it’s very helpful.
It requires courage on your part, but remember, identifying them is a huge part of the battle accomplished.
If you don’t have that person to ask to share these layers of feelings that they’ve seen. Ask yourself this, “Where do I you go…at my “not so good” moments.”
Those moments when you’re upset, frustrated, stammering for words to explain how you’re feeling. Those are likely in your ‘layer’ of emotions.
What about you? What layers of emotions are deep within you?
Identifying them does not need to be shameful. It should be seen as a step of great courage…With you ‘ready’ to break through this layer that keeps the very best part of you buried.
What feelings are in your layer of emotions? Remember, honesty with self is a champion style step!
2. WHAT TO DO WITH LEARNED FEELINGS.
One of the things that’s absolutely crucial, is to identify and acknowledge the feelings that you learned to ‘do’ growing up…those early wired feelings.
Typically, families ‘do’ feelings that bring some sort of advantage to them. Then they become your ‘normal’.
(Like, Dr. John Bradshaw, shares in his brilliant PBS series, “Bradshaw on the Family” when he states, “We learn to express our feelings not for the benefit of finding our unique voice and/or self, but we learn to express our feelings and emotions for the sake of the ‘family unit’…which is the beginning of the lost self-phenomenon and the process of becoming a ‘human doing’ and not a ‘human being’.”)
For example, her husband had come from a very large family with three brothers and two sisters. The family ‘did anger 101’ on a daily basis.
Whether it was a surly tone, a demanding that the salt and pepper be passed at the dinner table or arguing over an issue. The angriest and loudest one … won. The battle was always on … a war with no peace treaty in play.
She noted that her family ‘did fear’ daily. With three sisters, and a wonderful, but timid mom … they all learned to tiptoe around so as not to trigger their father’s anger … all to keep the unity, even, as sick as it was?!
They hid purchases, good report cards, bad report cards. The hid anything that might be upsetting to dad. They lived on high alert, ‘doing fear’ as a way of life.
One of the exercises that I have people do to begin to tap into this is to remember the family dinner table or (TV tables or however dinner was done) then ask yourself these questions.
- Did everyone talk?
- Was it silent?
- Was there fun and laughter?
- Were voices raised?
- Were feelings hurt?
- Did people get sent away to their rooms?
Considering these things gives you a good view on how emotions were done in your family.
Once you identify how feelings/emotions were “done” in your family, ask yourself:
- How have I repeated these patterns?
- How has it benefited me?
- How has it not benefited me/harmed me and my life?
- How has it affected my spouse?
- My children?
- My career?
You’re not stuck with ‘doing these emotions’. If there are ways that it has harmed your growth, your family relationships, your future … Make new decisions about what to do with your emotions.
In working with this couple, the wife realized that it was actually, the ‘doing fear’ that drove her ocean of pain.
We worked on some ways that she could (rather than living timidly around her husband) share her feelings from an adult and healthy place, and make requests for alterations in the way he was treating her.
Although she had worked on some requests previously, they were framed in fear: “Would you be willing to do this …I f it won’t upset you, or you don’t mind, or it’s not too hard?” It was ineffective. He acknowledged that it put him on the spot when she learned to ask without qualifiers, which had previously provided him a way out.
He was also learning. He was able to acknowledge how that he ‘did anger’. He had a hard time seeing it, because anger was not his intention. Yet the scowl on his face, and the slight edge in his tone provided evidence that he was angry much of the time.
He was willing to do an exercise with me in which he fired anger, a big stretch for him. I had him have a conversation with the anger … making note of the challenges it had caused him and how he often used it to get the upper hand.
He acknowledged that although he was guilty of it at times, that it was not who he wanted to be. So, he fired the anger, and made a habit of looking at himself in the mirror and stating things before he interacted with his wife. Ensuring that he’d removed both the scowl on his face and the edge in his voice.
What feelings did you learn to ‘do’?
Have a conversation with those feelings and tell them what changes you’re making. Particularly when they harm those you love, and/or prevent you from becoming your very best.
Own them and make new decisions!
Remember, the power of neuroplasticity is ours for the using, our brain for the changing, this life for reshaping!
To make our champion spirit and heart the ‘new normal’!
3. WHAT TO DO WITH CARRIED FEELINGS.
Carried feelings. They wreak havoc on our lives. Many times, one of the layers is carried feelings.
What are they? They’re feelings that do not belong to you. They’re toxic to you because they’re not yours.
Where did they come from?
They come from parents, extended family, coaches, teachers, other significant caregivers in our childhood who were either out of control with their feelings, or in denial of their feelings.
(“A child can only experience their feelings when there’s someone there who fully accepts them, names them, supports them. The consequence of this emotional abandonment is the loss of a sense of self as an adult with a load of carried feelings. When used as another’s narcissistic supply, that person develops in such a way as to reveal only what’s expected of him or her and ultimately fuses with their own ‘act or performance’. They become ‘human doings’ without any real sense of their authentic self. The ‘true self’ remains in a ‘state of noncommunication’.) “
Dr. John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You
With my client, when I heard the word “ocean” of pain…Which we soon discovered was an ocean with a rabid mixture of pain, fear, and anger…I knew that some of those were carried.
I asked her if she could remember (when she was a little girl) someone who is in pain a lot?
She described a mom who lived her life on the sofa, in the darkened living room, watching her shows, and demanding quietness from all the kids.
I asked her if she thought her mom was depressed. Her response? “Oh, she wore her depression like a gold medal! Nothing else mattered!”
I asked her how she processed that as a child. She reported how she would try to cheer her mom up, bring her treats to eat, anything to make her happy.
I asked if anything ever worked? She retorted, “NEVER! And I would walk away feeling worse than I did before I tried to help.” Clearly, she was carrying her mom’s pain.
Feelings are meant to be gifts. The gift of pain is hope, healing, new beginnings. But when you do not get the gift, you normally feel overwhelmingly depressed, hopeless, like there’s no point in life.
I asked her who she’d been around during her childhood who was angry.
She spoke about her dad’s raging.
- Raging about politics.
- Raging about economics.
- Raging about community leaders.
- Raging about the church.
- Raging at anyone who said something he didn’t like.
I asked her how she’d responded to his anger? “I hid. I hid in the closet. I hid under the bed. I hid outside in trees. I just hid!”
Clearly, she had carried anger. The gift of anger is power, strength, and motivation. But she did not get that. She was terrified of anger, as an adult she continued to hide from anger. Actually, I was surprised to find out how much anger she had about what’s been happening in her marriage. But she had done her best to keep it “hidden away.”
Carried anger brings no gifts, it brings terror of anger, rages, silent rages, unpredictable moods. No gifts in any of that.
I asked her who she’d been around that was either fearless (in denial of their fear) or fearful (irresponsible with their fear).
At first, she said she didn’t think that anybody in their home was afraid, except for her. I asked her what she was afraid of. She said she was afraid of her dad and what he would do next.
She told stories of horrible things that he would do to neighbors’ pets, and even their own pets. I asked her if she thought he was fearless?
She thought a moment and said, “Does that mean that he would think he was above the law and that he could do whatever he wanted?”
I assured her that was the perfect definition of unhealthy fearlessness.
Clearly, she carried her dad’s fear. The gift of fear is protection and wisdom. But when you ‘carry’ fear, you ‘do not’ get that gift. Instead, you become fearless yourself, or battered with tremendous anxiety, panic attacks, and often terror.
(My question to you is do you get the gifts of those feelings?
Or when you feel them, are they overwhelming?)
If they’re overwhelming? They’re carried.
In order to feel healthy pain, healthy anger, and healthy fear you must give back those feelings that you carry. That don’t belong to you. If they’re not yours, they’re toxic 100% of the time. They’re forced upon you by adults before you had boundaries intact.
They. Were. Forced. Upon. YOU.
Here’s an exercise I do with my clients who carry feelings. I have them identify these things:
- Who do these feelings belong to? Because they overindulged in them or were in denial of them?
- What price have you paid for carrying these feelings? (What happens to you when you don’t feel healthy pain but instead you get overwhelmed with hopelessness etc.)
- Why do you want to get rid of those and experience the gifts instead?
- What would be different and better about your life?
After you have assimilated that information, write letters to the people whose feelings you carry.
Now before you get started, this is not a letter you will share or send. It’s a letter that ‘unearths’ those carried feelings from your soul (that RUN YOUR life) and unpacks the layer keeping your champion buried.
Here’s the format for your letter:
I began carrying your__________(name the feeling/s) when I was a little girl/boy.
It was very unfair because I did not have boundaries yet to protect myself from your overwhelming________________(name the feeling/s).
I am sick of carrying your_____________(name the feeling/s) because: _____________________(list what it has cost you in your life and in negative circumstances, reactions, choices, etc.)
I refuse to keep carrying your__________________(name the feeling/s) because I want:_________________________(name the positive things that will be different in your life without their feeling/s).
I am angry that you gave me your____________(named the feeling/s). I have a right to be angry! And I give you back your ___________________ (name of the feeling/s)!
I will never carry them again!
Then sign the letter.
You may have many letters to write. Write as many as it takes.
Put each one in separate envelope and write either their first name or their designation on the envelope. For example: Aunt Carolyn, Mom, Coach Nichols, etc. Seal each one and take them and drop them into a mailbox.
As you drive away, say these words out loud: “I’m free at last!”
I’ve found through the years that people love reading about this but find it difficult to sit down and write the letters and let the feelings go. Not just let them go but send them back from whence they came!
However, it’s your only way to break through this layer that buries the very best parts of you.
Will you write the letters today?
“The wounded inner child is filled with unresolved energy resulting from the sadness of childhood trauma. One of the reasons we have sadness is to bring to completion painful events of the past, so that our energy can be available for the present.”
Dr. John Bradshaw,
Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child
Deliver back those carried feelings that bury the very best parts of you! Your champion is calling!
4. WHAT TO DO WITH FEELINGS ANCHORED IN TRAUMA.
Feelings that occur around trauma seem to be cemented into our very souls.
The husband of the couple I was working with struggled with anger. Not only did he grow up in a family that “did anger” where he who yelled the loudest and the meanest won, but he also had anger anchored around an early trauma.
He’d been quite the soccer player as a little guy and was pretty much the star of the team. His dad stood on the sidelines and yelled horrible things to him and coached him from the minute the game started until it was over.
“I knew I’d get my *ss kicked when we got in the truck if I didn’t play well. So, I played with my entire heart and soul every game!”
He paused with his head down.
“But there was that one game in February. It was a championship game, and we were all slipping and sliding, but I was doing my best to avoid the butt kicking I knew would come. Doing my best to keep my footing sure.”
He paused again, and you could feel the moment viscerally as he continued.
“I guess I got a little too aggressive on the ice, and on one strategic play, I slid and fell forward, and got a compound fracture of my arm.”
This pause was labored. Another sacred moment as I watched the soul windows open.
“It seemed like the ground and the sky were going in circles from the pain, as my dad screamed from the sidelines for me to get up. When I couldn’t get up, he came out on the field and grabbed me by my other arm and demanded that I get my ‘little loser sissie a** self’ back in the game.”
Shaking his head, looking down again, he was finally feeling what was stolen from him.
“All I know about soccer is anger and injury. At a time when I needed help and compassion, all I got was anger. That somehow stuck deep down in me. And I knew that I could push my way through life with anger. And I have.”
I told him we would work through the trauma layer later, but we would work through the anger attached to trauma during that session.
We did a little exercise that you can do with yourself.
We had him imagine that moment when he needed help and got anger instead. I asked him how he could see that he had repeated that as an adult.
In the exercise, he reported how that when his kids or his wife came to him for help, he met them with tremendous anger. Which gave him a feeling of control which he’d thought might be a good thing.
But now he could see how that anger being anchored to his soul in a moment of trauma, had caused him to repeat the same thing.
I had him imagine speaking to that anger going deep in his soul at that moment on the field when he thought his dad was coming to help him but came to yank him up to get back in the game. And I instructed him to speak to that anger and inform that anger it could not be in him anymore.
With great strength, he stated adamantly: “Anger, anger! (He was yelling by the second anger). Listen to me! Get out of that boy. Get out of that boy right now! He doesn’t need you. He needs help. He needs heart, he needs a hand to help him! Get away from him right now!”
As he dissolved into sobs over what had happened, his wife threw her arms around him and cried with him.
You could see the anger pour out in the sobs, and you could see his heart expand as she poured love in.
Feelings cemented in you, anchored to your soul in your time of trauma, do not have to stay. Take authority. Command them to go away and leave you alone.
Then choose who you wish to become instead.
Ultimately it is your choice my friend.
“Rage is the only emotion that can’t be controlled by shame. Actually…the intensified anger we call rage is anger that is “carried” or that has been shamed.”
Dr. John Bradshaw: The Homecoming
I KNOW that you can have victory over of what was placed in you that you did NOT want…and then you can fill your heart and soul with who you long to be…breaking through that layer! It will set you free…Your champion is calling!
5. WHAT TO DO WITH FEELINGS FROM UNFORTUNATE AND DISAPPOINTING LIFE EVENTS.
“When we are exposed without any way to protect ourselves, we feel the pain of shame. If we are continually overexposed, shame becomes toxic.”
Dr. John Bradshaw
What do you do with life events that create powerful shameful layers of deeply compacted and complex feelings?
You’re not stuck with those feelings. You can do something about them.
As I worked with this couple, a wife who came with an ocean of pain, fear, and anger…a husband who came with anger cemented and anchored to his soul…could now look at the pain and anguish of their marriage.
She was carrying so many feelings, and yet when she reached out and begged for help, she got stared at and mocked by a husband with anger cemented in his soul.
Only for the faint of heart-who quit.
That’s not you.
I know it’s not!
Because you’d never attempt to even begin to read anything like I’m sharing with you at this moment as you read, if you didn’t know that a greater, richer, fuller way of living was calling you…YES, it’s what I call the spirit of that champion within you…that’ll NEVER settle for less than you be your-best!
It’s only impossible to the faint of heart, and to those with analysis paralysis.
- What if it doesn’t work for me
- What if I’ve gone too far
- Do they really know who I am?
- Or what I’ve done?!
- Just because it works for everyone else, doesn’t mean it will work for me?
- Should I waste the energy?
- What if I do and nothing changes?
That’s the analysis paralysis that steals thriving from so many people and keeps the champion spirit buried in us. The life of fulfillment and richness you deserve.
You are not faint of heart, and don’t you dare paralyze yourself with analysis. Get in the game! Surrender to the new! This will work for you too! You’re not so special that ‘research-based modalities’ can’t reach-you!
(I know it feels like fear, but it looks like arrogance…so STOP STEALING from yourself! And besides you wouldn’t be wanting real change unless you knew…the angst of the style of life you’ve lived, just to acquire more strut … just doesn’t get it! OR, as Dr. Phil would say… “So, how’s that workin’ for you?”)
So, we did a process called “healing regrettable moments.”
I had her begin with her desperate moments with him, begging for his help, begging for things that he’d felt incapable of giving, and felt even more incapable of when he had failed so many times because he was paralyzed.
I asked her to speak to him from his viewpoint about the events where he had mocked her and stared at her while she was an ‘ocean of pain’. What did she think was going on in him?
At first, she hesitated. I waited because I knew it was a very important moment.
She started with, “I imagine when my deep sobs came, you could probably hardly understand my words. I guess you didn’t have a clue what to do. Not to mention that you had anger anchored in your soul. That anger was the ‘right response’ when someone was hurt and helpless like you were on the soccer field.”
She paused. You could see her gather her thoughts carefully.
“I’m betting you wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. Other than appear angry. That’s the mocking. Thinking that it would shock me out of it somehow. It was the only way you knew to help.”
Her love for him was remarkably visible on her face.
“I suppose that what looked to me like blank, empty, non-caring stares were your moments of, ‘Oh my God. What am I supposed to do now?’ And I bet you wanted to be anywhere but in that position.”
But you could see her resolve and she continued.
“And I could imagine when I would fall to the floor, and you demanding that I ‘stop it and get up’… that was your version of what your dad did to you and what you truly believed was best.”
We all sat in a hanging silence. She broke it.
“I can imagine that you felt like a failure. And that you had let me down one more time. And that you built a new wall for the next time it happened so it would affect you less!”
He nodded with affirmation and great shame.
I then asked him to make three “I regret” statements to her around those events. He began:
“I regret that I made you feel so small and wore you down that low.”
“I regret that I allowed myself to repeat what my dad did to me that’s torn me up my whole life…and that I did the same thing to you and expected you wouldn’t be torn up. I really regret that.”
They were both in tears.
“I regret that I would not go to counseling with you, years ago, so that we wouldn’t have wasted all this time.”
With no instruction, they embraced one another and cried. I couldn’t hear all that was said through the tears, whispering back-and-forth. I heard things like:
- I’m so sorry…from both of them.
- I heard pleas for forgiveness.
- I heard pleas for more chances.
- I heard desperate cries of how sorry they were that they’d made the other feel that way.
As things quieted, I heard “I love you,” and “I love you so much!”
Yes, there was incredible damage and incredible pain, along with horrible patterns of communicating and hurting one another. But we got through that layer.
He also had his turn. Which was equally moving. What it must have been like for her in those moments of deep oceans of pain, only to be and feel mocked.
Her regret statements were just as moving, ending with:
“I regret that I dumped a whole lot of carried feelings on you and did not get help for myself earlier, so I could love you through your situation, instead of my intensely selfish absorption with myself.”
But then the next exercise was equally as powerful. And it’s writing a new story about your life disappointments. In their case, it was writing a new story about what had happened in their marriage.
Her old story was, “I cry, he drinks, he blames me, I wear him out, and our marriage is falling apart.”
His old story was, “She made me feel bad, so I drank and blamed it on her. I made her think she was crazy so I could leave. And I did often. Then thought I was crazy for going back.”
I invited them after some other healing exercises to re-write the story. Because if you keep telling the same old pitiful story of hurt, resentment, and who done who wrong, you’ll NEVER be free of the layer.
Her new story was,
“I was emotionally immature and carried so many feelings that I couldn’t deal with them all. But I have offloaded them now, and have a partner by my side, standing guard, to make sure that not only do I feel loved, but I know he’s got my back…No matter what!”
His new story was:
“I no longer need alcohol to numb the anger and shame of the insensitive husband I was. I see her heart, and that sweet, sweet heart loves me with every ounce of her being. I’m the most blessed man on earth!”
Do some healing moment exercises. If your partner won’t do them with you, do them by yourself. Or get a friend or a counselor to do them with you.
Then re-write your story.
‘Your’ story creates the future.
Change your story!
Change your life!
You’ll have successfully dug through another layer that keeps the very best part of you buried and hidden.
I love the song by The Judds: “Love Can Build a Bridge.:
Love can build a bridge
Between your heart and mine
Love can build a bridge
Don’t you think it’s time?
Don’t you think it’s time?
When we stand together
It’s our finest hour
We can do anything (anything),
Keep believin’ in the power
Love can build a bridge
Between your heart and mine
Love can build a bridge
Don’t you think it’s time?
Don’t you think it’s time?
It’s time my friend!
It’s your time!
Your champion is calling!!
WE CAN DO THIS!!