"Feelings might not always be a barrel of gladness, but repressing them can be downright miserable."

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Episode 108 -- April 26, 2021

Dealing with Our Feelings: Emotions Can Be Allies

Inspirational author Melody Beattie examines the ins and outs of codependency in her book Codependent No More. This title is a modern classic, packed with personal reflections, exercises, and self-tests. It is a healing touchstone that can guide us down a path toward freedom and a lifetime of hope and happiness, since many of us with substance use disorders also face challenges of codependency and being in touch with our emotions.

Sometimes we try to make our feelings disappear because we are afraid of them—and acknowledging how we feel would demand a decision. In this excerpt, Beattie explores the intensity of our feelings. We learn how repressed emotions can cause turmoil in our lives and relationships. It is a call to action—bringing us face-to-face with reality. Explore this excerpt and learn how our compulsive behaviors, including codependency, can be easily triggered by buried emotions.

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

"I used to facilitate groups to help people deal with their feelings," says the wife of an alcoholic. "I used to openly express my emotions. Now, after eight years in this relationship, I couldn't tell you what I was feeling if my life depended on it."

As codependents, we frequently lose touch with the emotional part of ourselves. Sometimes we withdraw emotionally to avoid being crushed. Being emotionally vulnerable is dangerous. Hurt becomes piled upon hurt, and no one seems to care. It becomes safer to go away. We become overloaded with pain, so we short-circuit to protect ourselves.

We may withdraw emotionally from certain people—people we think may hurt us. We don't trust them, so we hide the emotional part of us when we are around them.

Sometimes we feel forced to withdraw our emotions. Family systems, suffering from the effects of alcoholism and other disorders, reject emotional honesty and at times appear to demand dishonesty. Consider our attempts to tell a drunk how we felt about him or her smashing up the car, ruining the birthday party, or throwing up in our bed. Our feelings may provoke unpleasant reactions in others, such as anger. Expressing our feelings may even be dangerous to our physical well-being, because they rock the family boat.

Even families that have no history of alcoholism reject feelings. "Don't feel that way. That feeling is inappropriate. In fact, don't even feel," may be the message we hear. We quickly learn the lie that our feelings don't count, that our feelings are somehow wrong. Our feelings are not listened to, so we quit listening to them, too.

It may appear easier, at times, to not feel. We have so much responsibility because we have taken on so much responsibility for the people around us. We must do what is necessary anyway. Why take the time to feel? What would it change?

Feelings might not always be a barrel of gladness, but repressing them can be downright miserable. So what's the solution? What do we do with these pesky feelings that seem to be both a burden and a delight?

We feel them. We can feel. It's okay to feel our feelings. It's okay for us to have feelings—all of them. Feelings are not wrong. They're not inappropriate. We don't need to feel guilty about feelings. Feelings are not acts; feeling homicidal rage is entirely different from committing homicide. Feelings shouldn't be judged as either good or bad. Feelings are emotional energy; they are not personality traits.

People say there are hundreds of different feelings, ranging from peeved to miffed to exuberant to delighted and so on. Some therapists have cut the list to four: mad, sad, glad, and scared. These are the four primary feeling groups, and all the rest are shades and variations. For instance, lonely and "down in the dumps" would fall in the sad category; anxiety and nervousness would be variations of the scared theme; tickled pink and happy would qualify as glad. You can call them whatever you want; the important idea is to feel them.

That doesn't mean we have to always be on guard for one feeling or the other. It doesn't mean we have to devote an extraordinary amount of our lives to wallowing in emotional muck. In fact, dealing with our feelings means we can move out of the muck. It means if a feeling—emotional energy—comes our way, we feel it. We take a few moments, acknowledge the sensation, and move on to the next step. We don't censor. We don't block. We don't run from. We don't tell ourselves, "Don't feel that. Something must be wrong with me." We don't pass judgment on ourselves for our feelings. We experience them. We allow the energy to pass through our bodies, and we accept it as being our emotional energy, our feeling. We say, "Okay."

Next, we do that mystical thing so many people refer to as "dealing with our feelings." We appropriately respond to our emotion. We examine the thoughts that go with it, and we accept them without repression or censorship.

Then, we decide whether there is a next step. This is where we do our judging. This is where our moral code comes into play. We still don't judge ourselves for having the feeling. We decide what, if anything, we want to do about the feeling and the accompanying thought. We evaluate the situation, then choose a behavior in line with our moral code and our new ideal of self-care. Is there a problem we need to solve? Is our thinking off base? We may need to correct certain disaster-oriented thought patterns, such as: "I feel horribly afraid and sad because the car broke down, and it's the end of the world." It would be more accurate to say: "I feel sad that the car is broken." Is the problem something we can solve? Does it concern another person? Is it necessary or appropriate to discuss the feeling with that person? If so, when? Perhaps it is sufficient to merely feel the emotion and acknowledge the thought. If you are in doubt about what action to take, if the feeling is particularly strong, or if the action you decide to take is radical, I suggest waiting a day or so, until you are peaceful and your mind is consistent. In other words: detach.

Our feelings don't need to control us. Just because we're angry, we don't have to scream and hit. Just because we're sad or depressed, we don't have to lie in bed all day. Just because we're scared, doesn't mean we don't apply for that job. I am not in any way implying or suggesting we allow our emotions to control our behaviors. In fact, what I am saying is the opposite: if we don't feel our feelings and deal with them responsibly, they will control us. If we are dealing with our emotions responsibly, we submit them to our intellect, our reason, and our moral and behavioral code of ethics.

We need to invite emotions into our lives. Then make a commitment to take gentle, loving care of them. Feel our feelings. Trust our feelings and trust ourselves. We are wiser than we think.

About the Author:
In addiction and recovery circles, Melody Beattie is a household name. She is the best-selling author of numerous books, including Codependent No More, Beyond Codependency, The Language of Letting Go, More Language of Letting Go, The Grief Club, and 52 Weeks of Conscious Contact. Her first book, Codependent No More, was published by Hazelden in 1986.

Melody's compassionate and insightful look into codependency—the concept of losing oneself in the name of helping another—struck a universal chord among families struggling with a loved one's addiction. Thirty-five years later, the concepts continue to ring true for millions worldwide, as the book has sold more than four million copies and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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