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Fearing reactions to your feelings

How to healthfully express your feelings without the fear of upsetting, offending, or inconveniencing someone

As I was sitting on my therapist’s couch waiting for her to wring out her tea bag, I could sense the change in the direction we were taking and it was making me incredibly uncomfortable. It had taken me almost a year to be able to open up about external situations that brought me to seek therapy in the first place. I had gotten pretty good at removing myself from the conversation while replaying situations over and over. I had forced myself to become emotionless to defend myself against any feelings that would evoke pain or discomfort. A good therapist will see this and most will let you play it out for a while. But after my fourth consecutive week of cheerfully depicting some weighty topics that were on my mind, the session changed from my external storytelling to that uncomfortable internal assessment I was dreading. 

With a lump in my throat and my mind racing to find something in the room to focus on to deviate the focus from my feelings, she stared at me and in the most perfect, therapeutic voice (that I’m sure she’s perfected over the last 25 years of practice), she spoke words that not only hit my core, but began the soft implosion of every chain, every nail, every piece of tape I had so perfectly manufactured…

Don’t be afraid of your feelings for fear of the reaction they may produce. 

My mind immediately took inventory of the last 28 years where I stuffed every feeling so far down for fear of upsetting, offending, or inconveniencing someone. After this realization, I finally looked up at her with a forced smile and teary eyes and managed to squeak out, “I’ve been doing this my whole life…” And in her therapist turned motherly voice she concerningly smiled back, “I know, Katie. And that’s why we’re here.”  

After that session, she sent me with homework. Homework I will meditate on daily.

1… Take a second inventory of the situations where you felt like you weren’t able to express your feelings and ask yourself, “Why not?”

  • Was it because I was afraid of the reaction I thought I was going to receive? 
  • Did I believe my feelings weren’t validated? 
  • Was I allowing someone else’s potential reaction to take priority over my feelings?

Whatever the answer was to those questions, I was to remind myself that my feelings are my own and I cannot fear or worry about the reactions someone may have because of them. Fear or worry will control neither. 

2… When a feeling rose inside of me, I needed to acknowledge the feeling in the present moment instead of pushing it down and never dealing with it. In that acknowledgment, I was not letting fear win. I was prioritizing myself and making my feelings known. I was owning my feelings and in turn, believing not only that they mattered, but that I mattered, too. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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