Your Emotions Are Data Telling You What Works and What Doesn't
The sun is (actually) shining over the snow in Indiana and I am listening to Lo-Fi Beats on Spotify while catching up on emails and contemplating a move to Palm Springs ;).
This is the third post in the Cleaning Out Your Stuff series. To start the exercise at the beginning go here.
I remember the first time I started to really wrestle with my stuff. I think it is important to note that I have always taken a pro-active approach to my mental wellbeing, but over time I have come to realize there is a distinct difference between mental wellbeing maintenance and actually having awareness of yourself ie: your stuff.
I attended an Internal Family Systems coaching training in State College, PA. I had really loved this tool during my coaching training and I wanted to dig further into the methodology and get certified. The whole concept behind Internal Family Systems (IFS) is that there are many parts of you that exist in your mind because of your experiences. We work to pull each of these parts out and figure out why they are there, what their functionality is and how they fit into your bigger picture. I have been working on my emotional wellbeing for decades. Ever since my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 12, she had me seeing a therapist. Then at 22, when I moved to New York City six months after she died, I found a local therapist and started navigating that loss. Needless to say, I had done a lot of work and I was pretty sure that I was fully aware of my stuff.
One morning the instructor asked if anyone was willing to do a demonstration as a client. I had participated in classroom demos all through my coaching training and felt confident that I would get something out of it so, I volunteered. The tool she was demonstrating is a much more therapeutic approach to IFS and is a tool I actually don’t ever plan on using in my coaching practice. However, I didn't realize at the time how much there was inside of me that I wasn’t aware of. The concept of this tool was that in a group setting you name the topic you want to work with, in this instance I decided I would work on my relationship with food. I wanted to feel like food had less control over my life and I thought that by evaluating all of the things tied to it that I would gain more clarity.
For this demonstration she had me individually name all of the parts that were coming up for me when I started to think about food or eating. Then she asked members of the group to portray those parts so that we could really get a feel for the intensity of their role. So I started naming parts, each time a group member would stand up and act out the narrative that I explained. Over time she started asking me about the intensity of these parts—how loud were they? Were they speaking individually? As a collective? Did one come on stronger than the other?
Eventually we got to what I will call the crescendo of the coaching session. She asked me what these parts wanted for me, why they were showing up the way that they were. Then she asked me what they needed to know so that they could come to some sense of peace.
I looked around at all of these stand ins for my parts and allowed the emotion to be what it was in the moment. And right there in the middle of the room surrounded by mostly strangers I started bawling and I said, “They need to know that mom is not coming back to help us anymore. That we have to do this by ourselves.”
It was a major turning point in my grief process but it was also really scary. The emotionality that came with that realization was overwhelming. I didn't know that a decade later there were parts of me that really believed that my mom might come back. I am a fully functioning rational adult. In what Universe would I ever believe that my mom would come back? Apparently this one.
Not only were those parts hopeful that she would return they also were waiting to move forward until she did. Where I thought I had made all of this progress around losing my mom, I had actually been holding on to a lot more than I could ever imagine. Following this session I was devastated and exhausted. It was hard to get back to equilibrium for awhile.
Eventually that clarity was life changing. Understanding that deep inside of me was a longing for my mom to return gave me the opportunity to let go of the idea that she ever would. It took one afternoon for me to see with such clarity what was getting in my way in so many areas of my life. But the emotionality was very raw and that’s why I am sharing this story.
When you start to examine your stuff…to really dig deep on what is going on inside of you and how your experiences have shaped you, it is quite possible that you will deal with a lot of emotions. These emotions sit inside of us in areas of our body that if we aren’t paying attention, can become dysfunctional. Doing this work allows us to release them and give our body an opportunity to reset. Feeling tired? Probably your stuff. Craving foods and bizarre comforts? Probably your stuff. Our experiences are tied to the way we feel. That is why I think it is so beautiful to know that we can reshape our experiences. We can release that energy and emotion and begin again.
But that is why it is so important for you to take your time with your stuff and not move too fast. If you completed the last exercise I have a few follow up items for you to help make sure you aren’t processing too fast and that you are truly honoring the experiences you are evaluating.
I want you to return to your notebook/piece of paper where you identified a memory. Review your insights, what you discovered and how the memory made you feel. Now get cozy again and take a few deep breaths:
Take the time to thank the memory again for what it gave you. Honor its’ value and ask it what is coming up now that you have some space from the last exercise.
Now close your eyes and calmly evaluate how you physically feel. What is going on in your body? Do you feel any sensations? In your chest? In your throat? In your belly? Just let the feelings come up naturally. You will quickly notice any sensations. Stay there as long as you’d like.
When you are ready, open your eyes and write down the sensations that you feel. Try to attach adjectives to the feeling. For example: I felt a lot of pressure in my chest and it was warm, like getting too hot to touch.
Would you associate positivity or negativity with this feeling? Is this how you want to feel?
If this is how you want to feel I want you to celebrate that your emotionality around this is positive and clean and constructive. I want you to remember what led you to this feeling and hold that close to you in your memory.
If this is not how you want to feel I want you to continue to the next step.
Try to think of a time when you have felt this feeling before. Can you recall other instances where you had these feelings? What was going on at that time? Write down what you remember.
Now take a few deep breaths and try to move the breath through the area where you have the feeling. Imagine that the breath is pushing this feeling up through your body and out the top of your head. Now take a few more deep breaths and reflect on how you feel.
Hopefully you are feeling a bit lighter and at ease. Now I want you to pull up a memory when you had a lot of joy and fullness and you felt confident and peaceful. Let this memory wash over you for awhile and let the picture come in clear. Who is there? What is going on? What colors are present?
Now I want you to see where you feel this in your body. How is it showing up physically? Try to find adjectives and clear descriptions for the feeling. Stay here as long as you’d like.
Open your eyes and write down what came up for you. What was it like to feel all of those wonderful sensations? Write down your thoughts.
This week I want you to try to add something to your schedule that makes you feel the way you felt in this exercise during the joyful and peaceful step. See how using this activity, mantra or experience helps you fight off the bad feelings from the stuff in the past.
The idea here is to understand the stuff, how it is making us feel, what power it has over us and then to release it. Then we want to remind ourselves how we really want to feel and what experiences shape those feelings so we can do more of that.
Let me know how this is working for you in the comments or via email. firstname.lastname@example.org