We try so hard to hide everything we’re really feeling from those who probably need to know our true feelings the most. People try to bottle up their emotions, as if it’s somehow wrong to have natural reactions to life. ~Colleen Hoover, Maybe Someday
To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world. ~Anthon St. Maarten
For those of us living with trauma, we have spent a majority of our lives dissociated. Meaning, we didn’t really feel our feelings (until perhaps we had no choice and couldn’t ignore or stuff down anymore). We weren’t aware of our bodies. We lived in our heads and outside of ourselves.
And when we did feel our feelings, we never, ever, under any circumstances shared them or expressed them (except maybe anger). Those of us living with complex trauma learned early on not to express our emotions, or at least we never learned how to express them in any sort of constructive or helpful way.
So when we start to come to this work of coming into our bodies and processing the traumas that live within us, we all have so much to learn and unlearn.
It is a painstakingly slow process that generally involves many almost imperceptible baby steps mixed with a lot of falling back into old patterns and cycles and finding our ways back out again.
I can say that it does get… less challenging… in time. With practice, with patience, with self compassion.
Learning to sit in our uncomfortable feelings (and really for those of us who dissociate, all our emotions are uncomfortable, all body sensations can feel like too much) is not easy or fun. And once we have learned how to tolerate our own feelings, well, now we get to actually feel those feelings and let me tell you I wouldn’t exactly call that fun either.
So if this embodiment stuff isn’t easy and isn’t fun and has us sitting in our uncomfortable stuff, what the heck is the point to it??
I actually used to ask myself this question at least once a week. I’m not even kidding.
I have many answers for myself (and for you!). Ultimately, for me, it is all about relationships, and having real, deep, meaningful ones; with myself, with those I’m intimate with, both sexually and not, with my children, with my friends and family.
If we not attuned to our feelings (emotions and bodily sensations), then it is very unlikely we are present in the moment, in our environment, or with the person we are interacting with. If we are unable to be present with another person, then we are unable to connect with them on a more than a superficial level. If we are only connecting with folks on a superficial level we feel lonely and isolated and we are also unable to tune into what is happening with the other person on a deeper level.
If we can’t tolerate to feel our own feelings then how can we tolerate to feel another’s? And isn’t part of being in deep and meaningful relationship being able to hold space and be supportive of and to those who matter most to us?
That’s part one of my answer.
Part two of my answer has to do with our reactions and actions, which also impact our relationships. If we aren’t noticing our little “tells” that we are at the very early states of feeling overwhelmed, flooded, or triggered, then we are unable to do anything to soothe ourselves in those early moments. If we are unable to soothe ourselves in those early moments, then those feelings build and build. They may build over weeks, but still with every interaction that activates our sympathetic nervous system that we are unable to reset our system from, then the next trigger feels more intense. This build up continues until we explode in one way or another.
That explosion can look like yelling and screaming and “losing our shit.” Generally speaking when this happens we aren’t our best selves and have a tendency to lash out and cause harm to the other person (be that actual physical harm, or emotional or psychological harm may depend on any number of factors).
That explosion can also look like illness. Chronic infections, chronic pain, autoimmune issues, chronic colds or flus.
That explosion can look like self harm, which includes over spending for “retail therapy,” over eating foods that ultimately don’t make us feel good, using drugs or alcohol to numb, and of course what we usually think of as self harm: cutting, binging and purging, suicide attempts, etc.
That explosion can also look like self isolation coupled with extreme amounts of shame and shoulding on ourselves (which can then lead to self harm or illness or “losing our shit”).
That explosion can look like any combination of the above.
None of these explosions are ultimately helpful for us or for our relationships.
As a species, we humans need each other. We were never meant to live in isolation or do this thing called Life alone, without any support or help. We are meant to live in community and in relationship. We are meant to have deep and meaningful relationships where we are accepted by each other (even our uncomfortable feelings), supported by each other, held by each other, and lovingly pushed by each other.
Trauma, and specifically being dissociated, prevents us from being in community and in relationships.
Becoming embodied helps us relearn what to experience being fully human.
Being fully human has some very messy and uncomfortable parts to it, as well as some amazing and joyous parts, and everything in-between.
So, my short answer to my question above of why I do this whole embodiment thing, and why I support others in their own journeys to embodiment, is so I can be in deep and meaningful relationships with others and with myself and so I can experience all that living as a human has to offer.
It is a conscious choice. It is made multiple times a day. It is not a one and done.
I am so much more embodied and present in my environment, relationships, and Self than I have been at any other point in my life. Even so, I still fall into those old no longer needed survival skills of dissociation and isolation. Even so sometimes my feelings sneak up on me when I’m not paying attention. Even so I cause harm in my relationships, even though that is the last thing I ever want to do.
And. I am also able to express my emotions to others, often without exploding. My relationships have grown deeper and more meaningful. Those closest to me see more of me than they have before. I am able to get past defensive anger and get to some of the deeper emotions that are bringing up my armor relatively quickly. I am able to laugh more freely and also cry more freely. I understand myself so much more.
I am able to receive love. To be seen. To see that others accept and adore me as I am.
And I have developed a deep compassion for myself and others that wasn’t there five years ago.
This work is not easy. It is not generally speaking fun.
And even so, I believe it is so deeply worth it.
This essay was originally published in my weeklyish newsletter on April 15, 2018. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To read my most recent essays you can subscribe here.