It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now, with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.”
~~ Pema Chödrön
For many of us, the new year represents a time to renew focus on ourselves and our relationships. We want to feel satisfied and fulfilled but we don’t know how to get there.
To become fully alive we must realize that our efforts at denying, avoiding, withdrawing, or reacting unconsciously to the dark side of our emotional being have failed us.
We so desperately want to believe that today, in our most intimate relationships, we have forgotten about our wounds from our past. We try to minimize the attachment we had, and still have, to imperfect caregivers, who themselves have the same skills of denial, avoidance, withdrawal, or unconscious reactivity (they taught us).
Change is, without a doubt, frightening. Many of us resist therapy because we are afraid of losing who we are and how we cope. Knowing the suffering we need to enter, to heal our little child inside, we tend to normalize our anxiety, addictions, and depression, and accept our unfulfilling relationships as the way life is. I recently read the line “Life really sucks” as a signature in a birthday card, and I was deeply affected; saddened at the implied hopelessness.
There is hope – it’s called feeling. Embracing our dark emotions is a way to fully experience our time on this earth, to really feel alive. Not just the joy and happiness we so easily feel, but the fear, grief, and anguish we have been taught to view as weak, and to be ashamed of. Anger, rage, and violence breed through the suppression of dark emotions. Are we better off for teaching our children to “get over it”? Do we limit their life experiences because we are too afraid to deal with our own?
Miriam Greenspan, a psychotherapist and author, uses the word dark to describe these emotions because it reminds her of “rich, fertile soil from which something unexpected can bloom”. In an article she wrote in The Sun, entitled “Through a Glass Darkly, Interview with Miriam Greenspan”, she was asked, “You refer to our culture as ‘emotion phobic’ but suggest that we are also drawn to ‘emotional pornography’. What do you mean?”
Miriam replied by saying, “By emotion phobic, I mean that we fear our emotions and devalue them. This fear has its roots in the ancient duality of reason versus emotion. Reason and the mind are associated with masculinity and are considered trustworthy, whereas emotions of the body are associated with the feminine and are seen as untrustworthy, dangerous, and destructive. Nowhere in school, for example, does anyone tell us that paying attention to our emotions might be valuable and necessary.
Our emotions are not seen as sources of information. We look at them instead as indicators of inadequacy or failure. We don’t recognize that they have anything to teach us. They are just something to get through or control. But despite our fear, there is something in us that wants to feel all these emotional energies, because they are the juice of life. When we suppress and diminish our emotions, we feel deprived. So we watch horror movies or so-called reality shows like Fear Factor. We seek out emotional intensity vicariously, because when we are emotionally numb, we need a great deal of stimulation to feel something, anything. So emotional pornography provides the stimulation, but it doesn’t teach us anything about ourselves or the world.”
So where do we go from here? How can we drop our protections and allow what is actually happening within us, below the surface, to be recognized and valued? We can start by realizing that we are not “over” our past: that in our relationships, our wounded child is very much alive. That little girl or boy is the reason we criticize, blame, drink, deny, withdraw, react with anger, etc.
Secondly, we can give ourselves and our partners the permission to feel pain. We don’t have to dismiss our feelings, and defend against our partners. When we are hurt, it’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to talk about it. It reminds us that we are human. It’s also okay to seek joy and connection. We typically feel the same level of joy as the level we allow ourselves to suffer: it’s a package deal. By embracing our suffering, we are also embracing our desire to fully live.
Lastly, we can bring back our childhood innocence that was taken away: our wonder and creativity, our raw emotional releases that allow us to move on, and our excitement and curiosity for the next day, for there is always a next day.