Emotions are funny little things.
We tend to think we only think them. Therefore we can think them in or out of our thinking.
This one feels good, so I will keep thinking it.
This one feels bad, I will not think it.
I will not think the distressing emotion.
But if you were paying attention just now, you noticed that what we are saying when we say an emotion feels bad or good is that it feels.
That's right. Emotions feel. But our brains are not wired to feel. Our brains receive and process sensory input and then trigger the appropriate neuropsychophysiological reactions to the sensory input.
This is a gross oversimplification but it basically means that in response to what the brain sees, hears, tastes, touches, propriocepts, and smells, it thinks and then tells other parts of the brain what to do in order to ignite reactions that will work with the entire being to react/respond.
This is why emotions feel. Because they are not thoughts. They are connected to thought processes, but they are not thoughts and cannot be thought away like thoughts can.
Emotions they occur throughout the body. The way we feel emotion in our whole bodies is reflected in our language. Think about that first time you "fell in love." Let you mind drift back to the memories of that first falling and notice where the feelings pop up. For most of us, a warm tenderness will rise in the vicinity of our hearts. We may even tilt our heads a bit and smile as as feel that memory.
Now recall a sorrow, a grief. Where does that feel? Perhaps you first notice a pit in your stomach or a different heat in your chest. Maybe now you sense a dark grimace on your face. What did you say about that sorrow? Did it "break your heart?" Where you "downtrodden?"
So here's the thing, emotions happen not as separate thoughts in the brain and feelings in the body. They are both/and. We just experienced that when we thought about love and sorrow and our bodies felt, because our brains are not any more separate entities from our bodies than our livers or femurs or spleens or stomachs. When something hurts one part of our bodies it hurts the rest of the body.
So what? Why does this matter?
Because for some reason our culture tells us it is different when it comes to how we feel. It's different when it comes to illnesses and pains in our brains. When the liver goes off line, we go to the doctor and get it fixed. No second thoughts, no judgment, no consideration of whether or not we will take the medications until the cure is done. No one ever tells a cancer patient to snap out of it. Get up and get going! It's time to get over it and move on with life. Forgive and forget.
Yet, when our sorrows and griefs appear unremitting to those who would have us happy again, when depression, anxiety, or worse strikes we wonder why we cannot get better, get over, get going when our well-intentioned loved ones tell us to. We insist we will not take those medications for the rest of our lives, or for very long, or even ever.
And when we think we finally have it licked, we find we have fallen in sorrow, dipped into depression, curled fetal-ly into anxiety all over again. Especially when our sorrow, depression, and anxiety are tied to losses, griefs, and/or traumas.
Why is that?
The answer is actually quite simple. The memories of those losses, griefs, and traumas are stored in our brains as thinking memories and in our bodies as emotional memories. It is this second arena of emotional memory that years later may leave us in a fetal position experiencing a panic attack for no apparent reason. Yet if we were more attuned to the emotional memory storage our bodies are created to provide, we might take note of what was happening in the context that felt so much like our past traumas that it triggered our ancient panic response.
What feels now so much like a life-changing sorrow so many years ago that is behind this irrational and misdirected irritability I am feeling? Are their parts of my previous loss or trauma that would benefit from continued healing or is this simply an old scar smarting from the reminders?
Knowing that our bodies store our emotional memories helps us be more attuned to the ebbs and flows of our own healing process so that we become less vulnerable to the cultural demand that we get over, move on, get up and get going on a particular timeline. It assists us in discerning when we do need to revisit old--or not so old--wounds. And it empowers us to see when we are inadvertently taking those old wounds out on the wrong people. And to stop.
Allowing ourselves and each other the space to feel the joy and the sorrow of life is good and righteous and holy. It is a journey of rejoicing and weeping playing out in God's word and world since the beginning of time.
At their best, joy and lament are communal experiences. The community need not be large, it need only be compassionate.
Where have you found your compassionate and caring community?
What else has aided you on your healing journey?