Yesterday, I featured part one of my interview with blogger and clinical psychologist Gail Brenner, Ph.D., who writes the insightful blog A Flourishing Life. We talked about healthy ways of coping and how to find our true inner voice among all the negativity (check out the interview here).

Today, Gail shares her insight on how we can feel our feelings — a tough one for many of us — the key to squashing self-defeating behaviors and becoming more resilient.

In your post on getting unstuck – which I loved – you wrote that when we’re young, “We may react to events with basic emotions like terror or rage, but we lack the tools and sense of safety to actually feel them. What happens to these undigested emotional reactions? We push them out of conscious awareness. We ignore or deny or forget. But they don’t go away entirely. They show up in the form of bodily tension, illness, confusion, difficult relationships, unsatisfying habits, and lives off track.”

Even as adults, I think this is so true for so many of us. Actually feeling our feelings is a frightening concept, and something that can lead to disordered eating. How can we ease into the process of accurately identifying our feelings and feeling them?

Unhealthy habits stem from our desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Just imagine if all our difficult emotions, our woundedness, our sense of lack were invited into the light of our conscious awareness in the most tender and loving way.  And imagine that each time we feel these challenging parts of ourselves, we bathe them in kindness and compassion.  There would be nothing to avoid, no need for compulsive behaviors that distract us from these inner experiences.

This is the possibility for all of us: to know ourselves so fully that we are conscious, alive, present in every moment.  The willingness to be aware of the totality of our inner world is the end of self-sabotaging behavior.  It is simply not needed anymore and falls away.

Deciding to open to our feelings, no matter how frightening or painful, is casting a huge vote for our peace and happiness.  We are no longer ruled by well-worn, frustrating patterns and inner conflict; we are free to enjoy ourselves and welcome creativity and fulfillment into our lives.

How to embrace feelings?  Experience them directly.  Make the choice to bring your kind attention inside to befriend those scared and hurt places that are hiding inside of you.

What we call a feeling consists of thoughts and sensations in the body.  As you let go of the stories you tell yourself about the feelings, you can investigate the exact nature of the feelings themselves.  Allow the physical sensations to be experienced completely until they are released, even if they are very strong.  Repeat this exercise as often as the feelings arise, a million times if necessary, until they are so drenched in love and awareness that they surrender their hold on you.

What would you like individuals with body image or eating issues to know?

Awareness is the key to overcoming any self-defeating pattern.  There is no short cut. When we illuminate the underlying emotions and belief systems that drive our behavior, we are then in a position to choose what we want to do.

It helps to contemplate what we really want for our lives and keep that foremost in our minds.  So, for example, someone who is faced with snacking on chips or fruit can ask, “In this moment, what do I really want?”  When we are conscious, the possibility of the life of our dreams is available to us.

I also invite everyone reading this to consider being kinder and more tender with yourself.  Nothing good comes of self-criticism.  The inner critic is just a hurting part of you that is waiting for your loving attention.  You can open your heart to yourself, completely, in any moment.  Including right now.

How can we become more resilient?

People have the capacity to bounce back from the most challenging of life circumstances.  At the heart of resilience is refusing to be a victim.  Being a victim is not inherent in the events that actually befall us; it is a choice we make by the thoughts we reinforce with our attention.  If we repeat a “poor me” story over and over in our minds, we are guaranteed to feel victimized.  But if we encourage ourselves to get support and keep going, we will be resilient.

Being resilient means understanding that we cannot control what happens to us, but that we can control how we relate to what happens.  We get to choose.  We can carry around the tragic events of our lives, letting them color the way we view ourselves and the world, or we can thrive.

Studies of resilient people have revealed a number of qualities that encourage thriving, no matter what circumstances occur.  We can all be inspired to actualize them in our own lives.

  • Strong relationships with people who support, encourage, and reassure
  • The willingness to allow strong feelings – anger, grief, fear – without avoiding them
  • The ability to make a plan and carry it out
  • Confidence – an attitude of “I can,” rather than “I can’t”
  • Trusting oneself and one’s abilities
  • The capacity to learn from life experiences. People who emerge from challenging circumstances often report insights such as greater clarity about life and appreciation for loved ones.  They feel gratitude for what the experience has brought to their lives.
  • Self-care.  Resilient people are attentive to their own needs.  They nurture themselves, and seek out help when needed.

Anything else you’d like Weightless readers to know?

When letting go of an unwanted habit, the desire for freedom from the habit has to be stronger than the desire to continue the habit.  The fire for freedom needs to be kept alive.  Once your truest desire is clear, you will be willing to face everything, and you will bear the fruits of happiness, peace, and well being.

Thank you so much, Gail, for a thought-provoking and wise interview!

Do you find it hard to feel your feelings? How do you work on becoming more resilient?

By the way, yesterday, I read a powerful post about body image that I think is a must read. It’s written by Kendra Sebellius, an eating disorder survivor and advocate who had shared her story of recovery on Weightless.

Be sure to check out the post here!