I am going through some big changes in my family life. Recently my father passed away.
Although we were not necessarily close, I respected him and have always known life with him around. My partner and I have differences that seem irreconcilable and we don’t know what the future holds. I am also under a lot of work pressure, which fatigues me quickly now. You often recommend that people actually take the time to feel their feelings as a way to get to know themselves better. When I start to feel my feelings, I get depressed and worry that I’ll never feel better. Some days I wonder if I’ll be able to get out of bed and go to work if I spend time really feeling what is inside me. How do I manage my emotions?
When you lose a parent, you will go through a range of feelings that can be overwhelming. It’s such a significant loss in your life that you need to take time to grieve and honor his life and passing. Did you take time off to be with family and friends, rest, do the rituals and ceremonies to help you say good bye? When we are inwardly overwhelmed we need to start by getting support from other people so that we can better tolerate our painful feelings. This provides a holding environment that reminds us that we are not alone and that we can lean on other people.
There is a lot of reinforcement in our society to avoid our feelings, usually by distracting, eating, working, or manipulating our minds to ignore or numb our emotions. However, this leads to further disconnection with ourselves and our inner resources. You need to build capacity to tolerate and learn from your feelings. This is done by living in a sustainable way that includes attention to diet, sleep, exercise, rest, play, balanced work -life and meaningful and supportive relationships. Such a lifestyle gives us the life energy and inner stability to be present to ourselves. Internally you can start by checking in with yourself about how you feel through the day. It can even be for a few seconds at a time. Doing a breathing practice where you breathe in for five seconds, retain your breath for five seconds and release your breath for five seconds can greatly calm you down. Looking at things in your environment that you like—plants, art, fabric, colors, the sky and so on can also support your inner state.
In actuality feelings are dynamic. They flow and change all the time. Adults get mired in one or two feelings and can’t shift out of them. This is due to fear, lack of appropriate support and understanding and having too many memories and experiences that remain undigested and unintegrated. By developing the ability to process your feelings you are building a container for your inner life and sorting through some of the baggage of your earlier years. Although this takes energy, ultimately it produces more energy because unprocessed life experiences weigh us down and pushing things away takes more energy than experiencing them.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com