The Importance of Feeling our Feelings
Contributed by Jacqueline Jacobs
At our most recent annual Pathfinder Leadership Summit, our girls were afforded the opportunity to listen to a presentation given by Laura Jack, a certified Grief Recovery Specialist. Her speech to the girls was grounded in the notion of letting yourself feel your feelings.
For most, when we think of grief, our minds quickly jump to funerals and loss in the most concrete of ways. However, the Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as “the conflicting feelings that come at the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” By this definition, we can grieve the fact we failed a test, moved schools or homes; maybe we lost a friendship, or we graduated from high school. All of these count as a grieving process and therefore should be treated with the importance and respect they deserve.
As Laura spoke at our Pathfinder Summit, I looked around the room at the expressions of the girls participating. To my surprise, none of the girls seemed sad or upset by what she was saying, but rather relieved. It was as if this was the first time an adult in their lives had given them permission to be sad, to feel their feelings, instead of pushing them down further, or staying on the bright side.
Laura discussed the fundamental myths about sadness and grief we are told while growing up:
(1) Don’t feel bad…It could be worse
(2) Replace the loss
(3) Grieve alone
(4) Time heals all wounds
(5) Stay busy – you’ll be fine
(6) Stay strong (pretend you’re fine).
While all of these myths play a fundamental role in our tendency to push aside our feelings, I would like to focus on this concept of “staying strong.”
As girls growing up in the world today, we are often categorized into two groups when it comes to our emotions: (1) “strong and cold” or (2) “over emotional”. If you are a “strong and cold type”, you often will gain more respect in the workplace and from others than you would if you are placed in the “overly emotional category”. So, with the combination of our desire to be respected and valued by society, and the myth we are taught of “staying strong” when grieving, we are socialized to push every negative feeling as far down as we can.
If women, and society as a whole, are constantly avoiding their feelings of grief, then what happens? Laura describes this as the “Tea Kettle of Life” analogy. She says to imagine your life is a teakettle. As it heats up over time with anger over our failed test, hurt that our partner broke up with us, or our dog died, or even happiness from the joys and life, the water in the kettle begins to bubble. This would be perfectly normal if we allowed ourselves to feel these feelings, to let out the rising steam, but unfortunately, instead we have been socialized to keep them inside, using negative coping mechanisms (such as binge watching TV, drinking, over exercising, over/under eating, etc.) to keep our tea kettle “closed”, not letting any of the steam come out. If we keep our “tea kettle” shut for too long, it will explode.
However, by practicing positive coping skills, we can combat this! Some examples of positive coping mechanisms are:
(2) Arts and Crafts,
(3) Discussing it with a friend, “Healthy Venting”,
(4) Creating a gratitude list,
(5) Going for a walk
“Every loss deserves the honor of grief.” – Laura Jack
Lets begin to challenge ourselves to allow grief in our life. If we let ourselves truly feel our feelings, we can live a happier and healthier life!