I went to the naked lady spa last month with a dear friend of mine. We are both going through big spiritual growth spurts and enjoyed each other’s company with of all the feels. We got to soak in the deep richness of each other, as we sweat out what wasn’t serving our bodies anymore.
Having that deep connection reminded me that I keep my magical friends close while not always sharing my big shifts with everyone (at least the details). Why? Because our culture isn’t designed to handle a wide variety of emotions in the day-to-day. Think about it – you buy food at the grocery store and are asked, “How is your day going?” You don’t tell the guy behind the counter the truth! You settle for “I’m doing well,” or “I’m fine;” maybe you dig deep enough to talk about the weather or the traffic you had to go through on your way to get to the store so you can make dinner tonight. It would be weird to share all the nitty-gritty details. Or rather, let me speak clearly – we make it weird when someone does express a true emotion outside of what’s accepted or expected.
There are some heavy expectations around how much emotion we’re allowed to express daily. Although we move our bodies, and are even expected to have a full range-of-motion to maintain a healthy physique, our emotions are not treated one and the same. You’re expected to be at a pleasant baseline, or slap on a happy face because that’s what’s permitted in our daily range of (e)motion. God forbid you’re going through something that matters and you happen to get angry, frustrated – or worse, cry – in public. Shame on you for being human and having a body that feels everything. How dare you step outside the comfort zone of those around you.
There is no shame in being aware of the emotions that naturally come up for you. You are a spirit in a body, and that body feels a lot. Simply put, your physical system is a filter to take in, express, release and receive information. We are like little sponges soaking up and squeezing out communication all day long. Sometimes we express these communications, and sometimes we suppress them.
Remember how quickly a 5-year-old can express that they’re sad, or angry, or overjoyed? They feel the feels and belt it out! This feeling process doesn’t stop after the age of five – we just learn during adolescence that we need to control our emotions so that we can fit in. Our expression needs to be in a presentable form.
Emotional self-expression is a tricky thing in our culture. Expressing a feeling doesn’t mean we have to all become extroverts and blurt out to everyone what we feel every 5 seconds (yep, that was a total judgement on extroverts — obviously not all extroverts are like that, but you get my point). However, being able to be authentic in life? Honestly sharing through day-to-day activities, even when it comes to our emotions? Imagine it for a second. Because being able to tell someone a true feeling, and not hiding behind anything unless we chose to – that is powerful.
It starts with holding space for ourselves
What if you could express yourself in a way that was true to you and you didn’t have to hold back what’s underneath “I’m fine”? What if you learned to manage your emotions instead of controlling or suppressing them?
Holding space is such a sacred practice for me. It gives us room to stretch our emotional legs, and move around to untangle some of the darker emotions we are taught to be so afraid of. It fosters that full expression. Having a safe space to do this is key. If you don’t feel safe your physical being won’t fully let go and allow the rest of your whole space (energetic, emotional, etc) to unravel the feelings and emotions you’ve had to bottle up to be able to “fit in” or stay in the realm of what’s socially acceptable to share.
Over the last 14+ years, I’ve made a living at being a massage therapist; a big part of that job description is helping and supporting others in maintaining the physical frame in which you move through life. Often, people come to me to get their range of motion, they find I hold space well — space to explore their range of (e)motion. I took the healer’s road to start dissecting these conversations to support the parts of you that you don’t feel you can share with everyone. As I’ve mentioned above, the world can be rather unsupportive.
Our world wants us to maintain a baseline not because people don’t want you to feel what you’re feeling. Rather, we don’t quite know how to handle your emotions. We barely make enough time for ourselves to process the food we just ate — where do we find the time to dig into the deep ends of our emotional selves? Let alone hold space for someone else to have a meltdown.
When you do decide to share yourself in a moment that falls below the belt of what’s socially acceptable to feel, you’ll probably experience a lack of space. You may end up dealing with the rest of the world’s reaction and/or response to something that has nothing to do with them. Remember earlier when I talked about our bodies being our filter? Well, when you say something to someone, their filter kicks in too; for what it’s worth, there’s a good chance they are taking in their response to your feelings and not actually hearing you.
No, they are not assholes; most of our culture (especially in the USA) wasn’t taught to hold space or be there for someone in a way that serves the other person. Holding space is a learned skill that most of us didn’t download in a manual; there is no Life’s Guide to Being with People. We were taught to fix and solve the problem, so if someone is feeling something outside of the realm of happy, then something must be wrong. This stigma that exists can make it impossible to share our true stance without the lash back of someone else trying to invalidate our experience.
This is where I struggle the most; how do I maintain my value of being authentic in any situation when 60% of the time I myself have been walking around my life with feelings of sadness, frustration, and confusion? When I don’t want to deal with the lash back of others? I’m still working on it, but it starts with holding space for myself. The last 3 years I’ve been in some of the darkest places in my life. I allowed myself to dive in, and I discovered the beauty that the darkness had to offer.
Sometimes being in the dark allows us to come back to the light. If we only dipped our toes into the brighter end of the pool then it would be like shining a flashlight in the bright sunlight. You’ll blind yourself. Start exercising that range of (e)motion by making it okay to feel confused, or to struggle, or feel lost. No need to avoid it or push it down — instead, find or create a safe space to experience what’s there for you.
Learning to hold space for others
Deep down all any of us really want is to be heard, seen, and acknowledged for where we are standing in this moment. Often, that means we look for support. The work of being in a body requires physical activity, stretching, and sleep (to name a few). Maybe you’ve supported friends with these goals, and been a motivator, reminder, or cheerleader to others. What about the work around our emotions? Where do we go to fully express ourselves without judgement, blame, or shame?
If you have friends and family that have healthy emotional boundaries, bless you. A lot of us don’t. But once you become an example, someone who lets it be okay to feel their emotions, maybe you want to provide that support for others. And I think learning to hold space for other people is how we start creating more healthy emotional boundaries all around.
That being said, there is a time and a place; know your environment. Yes, being recognized is an essential need of being human, and when someone else is in a vulnerable state pouring their heart out, we often want to jump in and be supportive. BUT. This is not the time to dive down there with them and share your experience to be relatable. Sometimes this actually hijacks their space and their expression. Being relatable and telling someone they are not alone is so important — and, there is a healing way to do that.
How we hold safe space is by listening, being quiet, and giving the other person room to breathe and get it out. Not by jumping in to try to save the day — this is not the time to be the hero or the victim. Once they’ve shared, you might acknowledge you’ve been through something similar, but it’s not usually necessary to share all your feelings about that; just let them know you have experienced that particular range of (e)motion, too.
Continuing the work of being fully self-expressed
Once you start uncovering your range of (e)motion, you might be surprised by how deep the feelings can go. You also might fall into the trap of thinking that once you’ve dug in and named your feelings, that’s it! You will be self-expressed. End of sentence.
In reality, practicing communication, especially of your feelings, is an ongoing art, not a one-time achievement. Remember how your body is an information sponge? Well, as you keep living, you keep taking in new things to process and express. Naming your feelings, then putting them out there for the world to see feels like work sometimes, but it’s the ongoing practice — moving in your whole range — that keeps things flowing.
Exploring your range of (e)motion doesn’t mean you have to constantly challenge everyone else’s comfort zones. This is not the time to dump on the poor guy behind the counter in the grocery store line. He’s probably just trying to get through his day, and is worried about when he’s going to find the time to study for the final he has at the end of the week. On the other hand, knowing you have some big feelings to process and asking for someone to hold space for you can be a powerful way to navigate your range, and also encourage others to grow in their listening.
Let me guess what you’re thinking: “Wait a second, Heidi. You mean I have to figure out what I’m going through, find a way to tell others what’s there for me, and ask them to listen? Is all that work worth it?!” Well, first off, no one has to do this, and I can’t predict what it will be like for you, but I’ve made it my practice and continue to do so. I struggled with this for a long time, especially once I started to reveal body experiences underneath the intense feelings and emotions. It can get uncomfortable, in a literal and figurative sense!
However, what I’ve discovered over the years is that by sharing a piece of myself and what I’m going through, I give others permission to do the same. Plus, I’ve gotten better at the “work” of navigating my feelings and expressing them; they are now more easily defined. I’ve found my safe spaces to express, and I keep practicing being more and more authentic, both with others and with myself.
You are the greatest relationship you’ll ever have. Your emotions and experiences are constantly updating, and your system has a lot to share with you. By giving yourself the space to unpack some of it, you’ll have a clearer vision on the richness of who you are.
I love this whole essay so much, Heidi! So much I can relate to from how to really listen to adjusting your communication abilities all the time, to taking time with your emotions. All of it. Thank you for sharing it.
This is a very striking line: “Our world wants us to maintain a baseline not because people don’t want you to feel what you’re feeling. Rather, we don’t quite know how to handle your emotions.”