I’m Not Feeling Anything! – Coaching People Back to Life
By Martha Lasley
Originally published in Facilitating with Heart
There can be no transformation of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion. – Carl Jung
In many cultures people deny their feelings. At home and at work, we’re taught to consider feelings a sign of weakness or neurosis. As a result, some people are proud to keep their emotions under control, and even claim, “I’m not feeling anything,” but the only time we aren’t feeling something is when we are dead. Even if all we can feel is numb, frozen, or still, we always feel something. Connecting to our feelings, just sitting with how we feel, without trying to change it, leads to a radically different awareness of our internal state. As we give ourselves the space to understand our feelings, they shift, which leads to deeper understanding and awareness.
When people are uncomfortable with their emotions, it helps to start with socially-acceptable feelings: uncomfortable, irritated, disappointed, and concerned. Once safety has been established, we can add feeling words that are less acceptable: afraid, angry, anxious, distressed, hurt, uncertain, and insecure. Cultural taboos place many feelings off limits and consequently, many people have no idea what they are feeling. So it helps to have a list handy to reconnect with what is really going on inside.
Once we have familiarity with our feelings, the list can actually interfere with experiencing our feelings fully as we step out of our experience to label it. I’ve worked with people who go through motions, without actually experiencing the fullness of their emotions. They can tick off their feelings as though it’s a shopping list, without honoring or living with the intensity. I appreciate how Marice Elias, coauthor of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting, describes emotions:
Emotions are human beings’ warning systems for what is really going on around them. Emotions are our most reliable indicators of how things are going in our lives. They are also like an internal gyroscope; emotions help keep us on the right track by making sure that we are led by more than cognition.
Experiencing our feelings is an expansive process while thinking about our feelings contracts our energy. Allowing ourselves the full spaciousness of our feelings expands and shifts our energy. However, if we start thinking about our feelings, we can simply notice our feelings about the thoughts, and return to the flow of expanding energy. Staying with whatever is alive, without forcing ourselves down a particular path helps us experience our feelings and our lives more fully.
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