Being with overwhelming feelings
C asks: “When I feel I’m whelming up inside, like a watery, tearful emotional ‘aroma’ I can’t seem to be with it; and then later in the day it’s got so big, I end up crying my eyes out and it all gets released.
“If I focus on the feeling and that feeling is not nice, I spend all day trying to avoid it.
I end up getting nowhere, and it’s like dead wasted space.
How to I stop myself doing that, and deal with something that feels so unbearable and threatening?”
Thank you for asking this question. I am sorry to hear that you are struggling such a lot with big overwhelming feelings.
It sounds like you are going through a really tough time right now, and I hope you are getting some support. When the feelings get so big they become unbearable, it makes sense to me that you would try to avoid feeling them. And yet, as you say, when you avoid them that leads to getting nowhere, and the sense of dead wasted space comes.
What can be helpful is to get support so you can feel safe enough to allow the feelings to be there, without them overwhelming you..
Sometimes it helps to say hello to them briefly, and then move away from them.
That way you can learn how to be in relationship with your feelings, rather than getting overwhelmed by them.
Before you contact your feelings, it’s important that you find your sense of your Presence, otherwise you can get swept away by the feelings.
Presence is grounded, spacious and caring.
Become aware of how you are being physically supported in the environment; the contact of your body with what you are sitting on, the air coming in and out of your body.
You may have other ways that you become aware of the present moment, perhaps by noticing what you can hear around you.
This brings you into awareness of concrete reality in the here and now.
You can imagine stepping back so that you can see your feelings there.
Where do they live in your body? What do they look like?
Like a frightened child or an angry bear?
How big or how small are they?
You can give them space, and at the same time you are giving yourself some space from them.
How can you be with overwhelming feelings?
One way is to treat them kindly, as if they were a person in you who is suffering.
Perhaps you can imagine them as a crying child. How might that child want to be treated?
You can imagine being gentle, kind and caring.
You can offer the feelings some self-soothing, imagine wrapping them in a warm blanket and talking gently to them, letting them know you understand.
Another way of being with overwhelming feelings is to ‘clear a space’.
This is Gene Gendlin’s first step of Focusing.
You acknowledge the feelings that are there, and then one by one, imagine you are setting the feeling outside your body, somewhere close by.
It can help to imagine each feeling being set aside, perhaps on a bench or a shelf nearby. See where it would like to be put.
Take your time with each feeling as it arises, and set each one aside, perhaps by using a gesture or movement, and then notice if there’s a bit more space inside when you have set it aside.
You could try using the track ‘when there is a lot going on’ on my CD to support this process.