That Heavy Load on your Back
How to Begin Unloading your Backlog of Unresolved Feelings
I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times I have encouraged clients or friends to “stay with” their feelings or sensations in their bodies as a means to move through and beyond stuck and painful experiences, only to get a blank look back, or the question “But I don’t know how to do that”, or “I can’t feel anything”.
This is an earnest response and besides that, there’s usually also the unspoken, “Why would I want to do that? It hurts, emotionally or physically or both! Why would I choose to feel those feelings or sensations any more than I am forced to?”
So here’s my answer.
Imagine that you’ve been carrying around a 5 gallon bucket on your back all your life. The bucket itself is not heavy at all and when you were quite young, it was empty.
But when difficult experiences happened to you, whether as a small child, or more recently, if you had little support, comfort, or safety to deal with the scary emotions, then your nervous system got overwhelmed. To be able to survive….to avoid blowing your circuitry with emotions too strong to be bearable, you dumped a cup or two of these overwhelming emotions into the bucket. You had to do that to survive and get on with your life. It’s what we all did!
When you were older, say, maybe in middle school, you got bullied by kids who you thought were your friends. This hurt you deeply, but you didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, so another cup or two went into the bucket.
In high school you fell in love for the first time and had all of those wonderful and exhilarating feelings for a few weeks that all the poems and song lyrics tell about, until the object of your undying love treated you unkindly or asked someone else to the dance. Again, the feelings were just too painful to feel without having a trusted friend or parent to talk with about it whose shoulder you could safely cry on, so another cup or two went into the bucket. Now it was beginning to weigh on you noticeably.
Then maybe you broke your leg, or suffered a car accident or serious illness, or felt humiliated in front of your peers. If you had little or no deep and trustworthy emotional support, the unresolved feelings went into the bucket.
Perhaps as a young adult you had a bullying boss or lost a job, or even a marriage. Perhaps a friend betrayed you or passed away tragically. Still more unprocessed emotions went into your bucket.
With each extra burden in the bucket, you carried with you through your life the extra weight. When you were young, it wasn’t so bad. You just optimistically, if naively, assumed it would all be fine once you found the right love partner and the right job. But as you approach middle-age, the bucket has only gotten heavier and you are beginning to feel bowed under its weight.
I want you to imagine that there is a spigot at the bottom of your bucket. It is possible to open this spigot and drain the bucket, but no one has ever taught you how, not your culture, not your religion, and not your parents. Oh, they may well have TOLD you they were telling you how, but their ways haven’t worked for you, and truth be told, when you look at them, their backs look pretty bowed too.
The way to open the spigot is easy to say, but it takes a while to learn and trust in it. What you must do is to bring strong loving presence to your body and emotions. How to do this is almost certainly a mystery to you at first because if this story fits for you at all, you have not had enough support and loving presence in your life in the first place, so, of course, you don’t know how to give that to yourself. You don’t have a clue how to open that spigot and to begin to lighten the load. This is really why people seek therapy. Whether they know it or not, they are saying, “Can you open the spigot? Can you teach me how?”
Over the next several weeks, this blog will offer you very concrete suggestions on the “how” of learning to stay with your old, unresolved, unprocessed feelings. If you follow along with a willingness to earnestly try the suggestions, I guarantee you will, at the very least, begin to empty your bucket, lighten your step, and experience your life with less burden. I invite you to share your experiences with me and our community in the comment area below.
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