Importance of Processing Feelings in Healthy Ways
Our feelings matter. According to Brene Brown, when we deny our emotions, they own us. As the Clinical Director of Resilient Solutions, Inc an individual, marriage, and family therapy practice; I emphasize with my clients the importance of processing and finding healthy ways to process our feelings.
I was a freshman in college when I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (link), and my parents had the wisdom to find a therapist who also had RP. We travelled out of state to meet with her, so we only had one visit. In that visit, I gleaned from her a sense of confidence, resilience, hope for my future, and permission to have any and all the feelings that might come up for me as I made this adjustment.
Feeling, A Necessary Step to Healing
Feelings have one ambition and that is to be felt. Feeling is a necessary step in our healing, our empowerment, and our resilience. For most of us, processing our emotions does not come easy.
Rezzan Hussey, Coach and Author, identifies four stages of processing emotions:
1. Noticing (the feeling)
2. Naming it
3. Accepting the feeling and
4. Possibly some action to support us in that difficult emotion.
Example of Supportive Actions to Take:
1. You notice that you are feeling a sense of sadness.
2. You name it – I am feeling sad.
3. You accept it. Sadness is what I am experiencing right now. You don’t try to fight it or judge the feelings.
4. You choose an action that is helpful when you are feeling sad. Perhaps you reach out to a friend to share your feelings. If they linger you might find it helpful to join in a support group or reach out to a therapist.
As we put our emotions down and acknowledge them, we begin to feel validated and can move forward into action. By acknowledging our emotions, we are identifying them and we can begin to move through the difficult emotion. Experiencing sight loss can be an adjustment process. You might be experiencing a sudden vision loss, a new diagnosis or a degenerative eye condition with uncertainty about how it is going to progress.
This can bring up many feelings that are all valid. The loss of our eyesight can be met with many of the emotions of grief: denial, sadness, anger, discouragement, acceptance, and circling the loop again as we make the adjustments. We may be experiencing not only the loss of sight but the loss of activities that we enjoyed doing, the loss of driving or other activities that were important to us. In time, we can learn many different options to carry on our activities. However, in the meantime, be patient with yourself and this process. Know that your feelings are valid as you make this adjustment. With degenerative conditions we may experience adjustment and to find ourselves at a later time experiencing a new wave of grief and loss.
Validating or Invalidating Feelings
What does it mean to validate or invalidate your feelings? When we validate our feelings, we accept them without judgment. Some examples of validation may be to say to yourself, “my feelings are valid, and I am worthy,” or “It’s okay to cry, this is a difficult experience.” Some invalidating examples of things we say are, “it’s not that big of a deal; at least it’s not _____,” or “it could be worse.” These are not helpful to us. When we validate, we are acknowledging to ourselves that “I see you, I hear you and you matter.”
We cultivate our resilience and ability to bounce back through recognizing and honoring our feelings. Feelings lead to thoughts, and thoughts lead to actions. If we can’t identify our feelings, we cannot transform them into healthy thoughts and actions. This awareness helps us avoid jumping from feelings to actions, then thoughts, which is counterproductive.
Give yourself permission to feel. The practice of journaling our emotions can be very helpful in the process. Begin to recognize your emotions and notice how your body feels. Then, ask yourself what do I need to nurture myself with this emotion that I am feeling. Our feelings matter.
In my journey of vision loss, I have found it helpful to process with a therapist, join an active support group and also be a part of the various blindness community organizations. I also have organized retreats called “Daring to Own Your Story” for connection and support.
Know that you are not alone and there are others to help you along this adjustment and journey. Also, know that your life can be rich and rewarding with sight loss. Listening and honoring your feelings is a step in this process.