I should have been a hippopotamus.
There is nothing I seem to enjoy more than a good emotional wallow. I roll around in whatever the emotion is (especially if it is painful, anxious or fearful), flinging “mud” up onto my back and over my head until it runs down my body and pools at my feet.
Interestingly, researchers who study wallowing behavior in my fellow (non-human) mammals have concluded that the primary motivation for wallowing is temperature control, with secondary motivations including enjoyment, maintenance of well-being and attracting a mate (apparently some of the creatures we share this planet with think they look better to the opposite sex when covered completely in mud).
This got me to wondering – do I perhaps enjoy a good wallow myself from time to time to keep my emotional “temperature” in balance? Like most folks who have worked their way steadily through the recovery process (from what doesn’t really matter here) I am all too aware of the importance of emotion regulation.
But I also know that, paradoxically, feelings of joy still scare me more than feelings of sadness. This is probably because I am still less used to feeling happy, contented, joyful or peaceful than I am to the opposing emotional states. To this point, it seems it is harder for many of us to hang onto joy (I wrote about this HERE) than it is for us to endure pain. I know this is the case for me because I work on it every single day.
So after I have done some work on feeling joy and sustaining that feeling, for instance, I sometimes feel very uncomfortable inside my own skin. I am still learning to recognize that “me” and “joy” are two words that can actually go together, so sometimes I actually feel as if I’m meeting a stranger when I witness and experience me feeling joyful or happy.
At these points, I might need a good emotional wallow – whether through watching a sad movie, listening to an emotionally-charged song (or writing one), or choosing to tackle an issue in my life that brings up pain – just so I can once again feel safe enough to continue my joy work as well.
Sometimes we just need to wallow. While an important facet of recovering from anything is to over time become skilled at emotion regulation, this process usually looks more like bouncing from one extreme (feeling nothing) to the other (feeling everything) for awhile rather than a smooth segue from one small step to the next.
So if you ever catch yourself shaming, guilting or blaming yourself, saying “thou shalt not wallow”, consider instead that you are on your way to learning emotion regulation, and a good wallow can actually aid greatly in that process!
Today’s Takeaway: There are many experiences to be had on the road to recovering from something or overcoming a significant life challenge. None of them are “bad” or “wrong” – each experience is another chance to learn something that will make us stronger. How do you handle the experience of you-feeling? Do you welcome a good wallow from time to time? Do you encourage yourself gently to open up when you are feeling emotionally shut down? Do you have an “emotional goal” towards which you are working? How we talk to ourselves and handle ourselves during the difficult path towards emotion regulation will be key to how much success we have the capacity to experience.
Hippopotamus photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 4 Mar 2013