Make space for your feelings. Huh? What does that mean?
In my therapy work, I ask clients all the time to make space for their feelings, or I ask them what it might be like if they did.
If someone has worked with me for a while, they know what this means, but if they’re newer this idea might be very confusing.
Let’s have a dinner party to explore this idea.
Let’s say you’re going to have a small dinner party with some friends. And let’s say your house is perhaps, ahem, a tad messy, because after all, you’re busy and have a lot on your plate.
If this is the case, it’s likely you’ll do some version of what I do – hide all the stuff laying around!! A pile of work papers is moved from the table to another room. Books are collected in a bin and put out of the way. Laundry to be folded heads directly to the bedroom in the basket. And so on.
And, viola. Space is made for the party. Hmmm… what shall we serve?
When the party’s over.
After the party’s over, sometimes you’re good about taking all that stuff back out and dealing with it. Other times, it just gets neglected.
If we make space for the stuff, then we can deal with it. Pull those papers out and they can get sorted and filed. Go through the library books and they can get read or returned. Dump the laundry on the bed to be folded and then put away and the next morning you know where to find your favorite blue shirt.
How your feelings are like your stuff.
Sometimes emotions arise when we’re in a place and state to feel them and give our full attention to them. But other times, we might need to put them on hold a bit.
Just like we don’t want our laundry in the middle of the living room when we’re having a party, we are often in situations where we don’t want to or it’s not a good idea to have all of our emotions be front and center.
So, we “put them away”. There are different ways we do this, and some are more effective than others.
You might “bottle them up forever”. This is like putting the papers from the table into a box and sticking them in the back of a closet for years. When you do this with feelings, they don’t “go away”, they accumulate “emotional dust” along with the problems that come from not addressing things in the first place.
If, on the other hand, you do make time to pay attention to your emotional responses, it’s like folding and putting away that laundry. It helps to sort things out and know what you want to do with them.
Making emotional space.
So, how do you “make space for your emotions”? First, feelings want to be acknowledged. They’re a bit like toddlers. They usually really can wait, but they really need to be noticed first.
Say you’ve just learned some sad news about a family member, but you have a meeting you need to go to. Your sadness will sit and wait its turn a lot better if you simply notice that it’s there. You might say to yourself, “This is really sad and really hard, and it’s okay if I focus on my meeting now, but I want to call my sister later so we can support each other.” This is the emotional equivalent to putting the books in the bin and out of the way for the party.
Later, when you do call your sister, this is more like the time when you pull out the bin of books to sort and make piles to go back to the library, put on the shelf, or sit down and read.
Curiosity and openness are inviting.
When you have a dinner party, your guests are going to feel comfortable when you are welcoming and interested in them. Your feelings are like this too. Being curious about how you are feeling and being open to your feelings means that you will able to feel more at ease with them. This creates space for them to come and go and shift – just like clouds in the sky.
“Bottling them up”, ignoring or “stuffing them down” will make them feel unwanted, but they will act more like an ignored toddler than an unwanted dinner guest.
Your emotions have a home, and it’s your body.
Whether you are giving your emotions some space when your are first experiencing them or after you’ve needed to put them aside for a time, creating room for them involves noticing what they feel like in your body.
When you do this, you are making opportunity for your body’s wisdom to help you cope with the feelings and you have a lot more “room to breathe” than if you are just focusing on what they are like in your thoughts.
Shall we play with this?
YOUR BODY KNOWS
I’d like to invite you to explore making room for your feelings and how they “show up” in your body. Read over the instructions first and then feel free to take as much or little time as you’d like. Get comfortable. Be curious.
1. Scan your body head to toe.
Scan your body by paying attention to one part at time. Begin at the top of your head and travel to your toes. Notice the sensations that you feel. Warmth, relaxation, pain, tingles, urges to move. You may notice what feels comfortable or uncomfortable, but try not to judge those experiences as “good” or “bad”.
2. Ask yourself what emotions you are noticing.
You may notice that you clearly feel some emotions associated with your body sensations, or you may not. The connections are sometimes very strong and at other times imperceptible. You may or may not have words to describe the emotions. Again, try to remain curious and nonjudgmental.
3. Experiencing space.
Notice what it’s like to take the time to notice your feelings in this way, and if it feels different than other experiences you’ve had.
If you’d like to spend some more time with this, you might do some journal writing or drawing or movement (from stretching or walking around to more expressive movement).
When we make room for our emotional lives, we experience a greater sense of internal space, more ease and more flow in our lives.
It can take help and support.
When I have a dinner party, I’m in luck if my sister is among the guests. She has a genius for quick-pick-up-transformation-of-a-room. She’s also a good person to sort through things with in a more measured way.
Sometimes you need support in coping with our emotions and our emotional “stuff”.
There are many options for support, from friends to self-help books, spiritual guidance to therapy. If you’re interested in a free consultation to see if a creative, body-centered approach to therapy might be right for you, please get in touch.