Why are feelings so problematic to us in this culture? To feel means our body is in touch and connected to something, for example we feel the touch of our clothes on our skin or the touch of the breeze caress our face. The antithesis would be to be anaesthetised or numb which is what happens under the influence of a drug, for example during surgery or dental work or when as youngsters we learned from others or due to our fear to withdraw from feeling what we felt into a substance. in response to the way others responded to us feeling.
I know that emotion and feeling are not the same. It seems to me that emotions have a mental component in response to what is done to us or how others respond to us feeling something. For example, imagine a parent hugged you and it hurt and you went “Ow” and then your parent got angry with you or told you “don’t be silly, that didn’t hurt” how much more tangled and complex our emotions around that event would become. We could begin to feel anger as a contraction or clenching in our body in response to unkind, unempathic, invalidating words and then we may feel fear and sadness and hurt as well, all as a response to others who responded to us in a certain way! All sorts of things and sensations and responses would occur in our body as a result.
If we valued our parent’s perception we may begin to doubt ourselves. “Was what I felt real if they said it was not?” We may begin to believe that it is too difficult to feel as we did and so we must not feel that way. But without knowing how we really felt we can’t really connect to the truth in our body and our cells. And if we tell ourselves we were wrong for having that feeling the result is the feeling gets blocked, it doesn’t move out and just work its way free, it gets stored inside, possibly with a lot of damaging thoughts.
How much better to say to ourselves. Its okay, darling. When they hugged you it hurt and then it hurt more to be told it didn’t hurt. That doesn’t make what you felt wrong it means the other person didn’t show empathy and wasn’t sensitive to your feelings.
As children we cannot do this, but as adults who are beginning to heal from invalidation abuse we can. We can learn to touch base with our inner child and no longer invalidate him or her or his or her feelings. We can learn ways to recognise and self soothe. We can learn when to withdraw from what is hurtful or damaging without making up a lot of stories about how we are wrong to do so. Our body would feel heard which is where our inner child lives.
Our real feelings wont hurt us if we just recognise them. One of my favourite quotes from Alice Miller an expert on narcissistic abuse of emotionally sensitive children speaks of how our true feelings never lie, they give us essential information. Miller goes on to say that if you are with anyone a therapist or other person who invalidates your feelings you need to recognise this. You need to limit involvement with these people until you can recover long enough to find out how you really feel You can take your feelings seriously but without magnifying them. You can let them be, let them breathe and set them free. They will not then possess you so much.
Validating your feelings is important. If you are emotionally sensitive and were raised in an insensitive environment there is going to be a lot of healing to do because you will, like me, have internalised many messages telling you to over ride, discount or doubt your own feelings. Your feelings will then grow inside into a much larger force that gets attached to a lot of thinking and over-ruminating and your feelings will coagulate into a huge undifferentiated mass which if left til much later in life to unpack may threaten to overwhelm you. It will be most important that you surround yourself with others who are able to validate you and not confuse you more. In the end you will be the one who can then validate your own feelings and when you meet with emotional invalidation you will recognise it but learn not to take it too seriously. You wont let the hurt lodge so deeply inside you. At least that is my experience.