The F word is one of those things that can evoke a range of responses. Your response can even change moment to moment.
So here we go… I’m going to say it so brace yourself for the F word…. FEELINGS.
Wow! I’m glad that’s out the way – everyone doing ok?
I did not grow up in a household where we used the F word. Feelings were things to be put away, ignored, hidden – particularly hard emotions like sadness, anger and shame. I was expected to suck it up, put it behind me, look on the bright side and get on with it – sound familiar? And I “successfully” managed to do this well into my adult life up until about 2 ½ years ago when I was diagnosed with depression.
You’ve probably heard the expression – fake it until you make it. Well, that didn’t work out so well for me. Depression forced me to face the broken shards of myself in order to heal, to resurrect myself from the awful feelings of unworthiness and shame associated with depression.
So since that moment, I’ve been on a kind of journey, exploring feelings, learning what they really are and what impact they can have on our physical and mental health.
Recently, I attended a lecture by Dr Brene Brown. If you don’t know her, she is a professor at the University of Houston and she began her research career looking at the emotion of shame. Today, I wanted to share with you two things from her and why having an understanding of the F word is so important.
Firstly, there is a reason that emotions are also called feelings.
Just take a moment now and in your mind picture a situation where someone said something really awful about you or treated you badly. What did you feel, in your body, describe some of the symptoms.
You've probably worked out already that they are called feelings because you FEEL them in your body. They cause a physiological response. And I truly believe that if feelings go unchecked, they can cause illness in the body.
The second fact about feelings that I wanted to share is that not all feelings are true.
Our brain uses feelings as a defense mechanism – a survival strategy. Feelings prepare us for action and movement.
If I suddenly opened this door right now and there was a 9-ft grizzly bear standing there snarling and swiping with his claws, how would you feel?
Right! You’d want to run, you’d be terrified!
Unfortunately, our brain sometimes can’t distinguish between a real survival situation and a fake one. Our feelings can make our bodies respond in the same way whether we are upset about something someone said or if we are being chased down by a grizzly bear.
So what does this all mean?
For me, it meant that I had to learn how to distinguish between fake and true feelings. This was the only was I was going to recover from depression.
I did this through talking. By verbalizing the things that were going on in my head, I could use a different, more rational part of my brain to process the information and decide if it was true or not. Dr Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA calls this the “name it to tame it” strategy.
I also learned to be aware of what different emotions felt like in my body. For example, when I am anxious, I hunch up my shoulders, breathe less deeply and feel tingling in my hands and feet.
Now that I know these bodily sensations, I can be more aware of how I am feeling and have more of a chance to decide if the feeling is true or not, and also have a chance to change it.
Learning more about emotions has made me more aware of myself and has given me the ability to prevent emotions taking control and manifesting in undesirable ways in my body and mind. Particularly when it comes to parenting my girls! If I can be aware of my feelings, I can be mindful of why I am reacting to their behavior and whether it is really something true or just something that I am feeling but is unrelated to them.
Not only this, but I am determined to make sure that my kids learn about this also. My house IS a place where we say the F word regularly! I believe this is going to help my kids to become resilient and achieve what they want in their lives without emotions derailing them.
I’m also excited to bring this type of knowledge into my professional life working with parents and I hope that you feel inspired in some small way to talk about the F word more often so that you don’t feel like you have to run away from a 9-ft. Grizzly, unless you really have to.
Image Credit: Bio Chemistry Research from http://theodysseyonline.com/delaware/depression-guys/318177