On Compassion for Self and Fear of Feeling

This post is inspired by interwebz discussion last Monday following Twelve Years A Slave winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.  I paid attention to two primary themes:  my generation’s response to slavery & racism and the discussion by people who feel too emotionally sensitive to engage with the movie (or, more generally, any media that might make them feel bad, feel emotional, or retraumatized).  I’ll save the former for later and address the latter here.

Let me first say this:  I get it.  At multiple levels.  But I think it behooves us to really examine ourselves, how we define our ‘woundedness’, and how we choose to hide behind it or shed it.

There is a common thread that I see running through what I loosely call the empath-healer circuit.  It runs along the spectrum from “I just feel things too much” to the near script-like and super-glued identification with Chiron, the wounded healer–as if they, too, have chosen to be the guardian of their own personal hell or remain perpetually wounded by Hydra’s venom (emobodied by the all too human abuse of another).

There is a fine line between having compassion for oneself and standing in the fear of feeling anything ‘bad’.  One keeps us from engaging with the world entirely and the other let’s you experience it wholly–in its ingloriuos holiness.

One of our not-so-brilliant human tricks to is remain grounded in how we have long-imagined we might respond to external events or stimuli.  Those of us who have experienced abuse at the hands of others have the tendency to assume that anything  that makes us feel deeply is tantamount is being reflayed, reraped, or otherwise immersed in a not-so-distant reliving of past traumas.

The resistance to *any* feeling is grounded in fear.  That fear is fed by us being focused on how we felt when we were traumatized, not how we have grown as we moved farther from the trauma.  We assume that our responses will be the same when, in fact, they will be vastly different. There is a quote from John 4:18 that is similar in most bible versions.  Generally, it goes a little something like this:  There is no fear in love.  Perfect love casts out all fear because fear has to do with punishment.

Fear has a singular purpose:  to keep us alive.  That’s it.  It’s a full-bodied, psychosomatic (that word doesn’t mean what you probably think it means) response to something that threatens to cause us harm.  It is engineered to keep us safe from said threat by freezing so it can’t see us, fleeing so it can’t catch us or fighting it so we kill it first. Anything else we create that fear for is superfluous and wasteful at best,  dangerous and harm-creating at worst. The fear of feeling emotions & the judgments that keep us in that state are, indeed, punishment.

It’s my opinion that when we use fear of feeling to avoid the emotional responses orchestrated by cinematic and musical artists in stories such as 12 Years, we will also automatically–consciously or unconsciously–use that fear to address how trauma has effected us.  I believe it is imperative, particularly for those of us who work with other trauma survivors, to be able to stand in those feelings we have long feared to a) recognize that the fear is no longer necessary, b) honor our growth from victim to teacher, and c) fully love ourselves out of more fear of feeling.

We may think that it takes an act of courage to feel.  In fact, it merely takes a heart-opening willingness to fully love ourselves–our anguish, our loss, our rejection, our brokenness, our orgasms, our strength, our courage, our joy, our passion, our grief, our unbridled laughter and unbearable lightness of being.  In that lies the capacity to truly feel another–thier anguish, their loss, their rejection, their brokenness, their orgasms, their strength, their courage, their joys and passions and griefs and laughter and incredible lightness of being.

When I work with people, I open myself to feel everything–to the memories within leg muscles repeatedly forced open, fear of dying, fear of living, abandoned hearts, lost voices through a lineage, terror from time long past. I confront demons of the past and those in the here and now. And I cry, I grieve, I apologize, I forgive.  And with each tear, each gasping sob, I say thank you.  I say thank you because someone has trusted themselves enough to let me in their heart, has courageously released the leashes they’ve held onto for decades.  I say thank you  because the capacity created for the new space is of divinity.   I say thank you because I can feel them–really, honestly feel them & recognize them within me.  The shit and the divinity.   I feel what fuels me & inspires them.  They feel what fuels them and inspires me.

However, I also feel all of that when I giggle hysterically with them, dance like a schoolgirl with them, chant in a foreign language with them, cheerlead & asskick with them.  And, I’m not afraid to let the snot flow from a place of wretchedness or wicked fun.

I don’t expect others to feel people and the universe in the way I do. In fact, I  often wouldn’t wish it on another soul.

I do wish people would move past the fear of feeling.  I wish people could move past the stories they’ve created about their expectations of what a potential future feeling might bring to them.  I wish people would go see 12 Years A Slave and connect with the pain, the inspiration, the story in front of them, the feeling of freedom being being a slave to their own fear, their own feelings.

When you are willing to feel those things you will be able to feel *all* things, in their entirety–unadulterated & unfiltered. Peaceful joy; riotous stilless; all  shades of lightness; tangible connection to all things; and compassion-inspired action.

When you can do that for yourself you can open up the world to others in ways you’ve never been able to imagine but have always known.  It’s the reason you were made.  It’s the reason you survived.  It’s the reason the pills didn’t work, the gun jammed, the phone broke your concentration from the noose or razor.

You have already experienced the worst the world has to offer you.  Don’t be afraid of the unknown feelings of the future.  That fear is blocking your creative energies, healing capacity and your own expression of yourself.

You’re not ‘too sensitive’.  You’re afraid. Of being moved.

You don’t wear that well.  Go see a movie. Go be moved. Go be inspired & stop punishing yourself for what others have done to you. Go to a movie to find the strength  hidden behind that fear.  Be moved from fear into the strength of truly loving yourself.

And get some Whoppers, popcorn with extra butter, and extra napkins in case you get snotty.

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4 thoughts on “On Compassion for Self and Fear of Feeling

  1. This presents such a hopeful beginning for your readers Ingrid! Having had my share of emotional pain for the bulk of my childhood, I saw doing what you say as a choice to either let it defeat me or turn it into my strength. Because I have survived it and learned how to identify it, I can now stand up and push it aside. Each time I do that I win and that is the best motivator ever! At any given time in my life there is always someone who is better off and worse off than me in all aspects and this creates a sort of balance which allows me to embrace and be thankful for all that I have. I know that I will not feel alone, rather I will be empowered with opportunities to help those who are less fortunate and cannot reach certain goals by themselves. Thanks!

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