There are times in life when it becomes difficult to swallow our anger, frustration or disappointment that have resulted from loss and abandonment. Opening to feelings we’ve attempted to suppress will become necessary, which is by no means easy.
Disagreeable feelings are sensed as physical discomfort, along with a secondary layer of obsessive, repetitive memories or fears. The urge will be strong to seek external distractions, such as social networking, shopping, food, TV, etc.
Another avoidance tendency is repeating unhealthy experiences or patterns from earlier life in adult relationships, attempting to “rewrite” the drama: neglected children seek narcissistic or uncaring partners, trying to change the outcome and ‘win’ the love they didn’t receive when it was crucial.
Unfortunately, this trap always leads to disappointment: if the replacement does start to provide care or attention, the old disappointment still lingers, and the endeavor will be abandoned. Eventually, the repressed always returns, seeking attention.
Opening to anger or sadness can feel like it will consume us and wreck our “safe” relationships. Yet freedom can be located in relating to these challenging emotional material, even the deepest of wounds from early childhood experiences. While experiences of abuse are best opened to in the context of therapeutic support, there is much we can open to in our practice: neglect/abandonment, unmet needs, trampled boundaries, insecure attachment patterns.
When feelings are avoided or compartmentalized, the physical and emotional force seeks other outlets, as such innate, basic human experiences need to be felt and granted attention. Running from our feelings is once again turning away from a vulnerability that needs love, security and care. This opening doesn’t mean we’ll be taken over; we can feel what needs to be felt—rage or pain or despair—without being driven or controlled by them. Such emotions can seem overwhelming, but that’s often due to the effort and energy we’ve placed into resisting them. What we resist persists, as they say.
The process of healing is founded on accepting and giving space to whatever needs to arise—even anger towards previous caretakers we feel we “should” love or hold gratitude. The first step is to pause, breath, put aside the narrative stories of what has occurred, and open to what we are turning away from in the moment: physical and emotional expressions of agitation, rage, fear, sadness, etc, or flowing combinations thereof.
One process is to repeat and direct a simple, compassionate question towards the heart: “I love you. What do you need to be feel?” If we feel blocked or hesitant, we hold an image—not a narrative memory—that evokes an unpleasant experience from the past. If we still feel blocked or removed, we can add a very generic question that encourages emotional ‘wetness:’ “How does it feel to be abandoned when we needed support?” while focusing on what arises kinesthetically. We can be creative in encouraging emotions to arise, so long as we don’t fall into simply inhabiting the past; the key is to open to what arises now, in the breath and body, in our “gut feelings,” in our moods, in any realm outside of the conceptual mind.
The key to the practice is a spacious mind; one that is larger than the pain and emotional energy that arises. With a wide awareness, we can avoid the pitfalls of needlessly triggering or traumatizing; giving some attention to the breath, keeping long and deep throughout, especially focusing on extending out breaths. And while old feelings that arise in the abdomen, chest, eyes or throat should be granted freedom, tightening muscles in the arms, legs, jaw, buttocks, etc can be softened and released. Another temptation will be to return to those alluring ideations or stories that arise in the mind: this urge should be resisted. Welcome the thoughts and allow them to shout as much as they need, but keep the focus on keeping the mind spacious, diligently attending to the body.
Are we willing to give space to the emotional debris of loss? Can we relax the need to control enough to allow the avoided and difficult its time on the stage of awareness? Our resentments are tempting; we prefer them to our pain. But each time we fall back into a drama, the energy is playing out in the body below, but we’re simply not giving it awareness, so its drive remains unresolved.
Eventually, once the force and emotional content is felt, we may locate another feeling, that of exhaustion, vulnerability or hollowness. This is a place of mourning what we’ve lost, that which we’ve been deprived. The process here is to bring compassion to this loss (our experiences of not being taken care of or loved), this vacuum, to fill it with true concern. This awareness is the highest form of self compassion. When we give up resisting, we develop a place of inner healing, a process for mending that which most needs love.