When “trauma-informed” is the battle cry at mental health organizations, our time together often starts with the question “How are you?” As a real answer is encouraged, the expression on people’s faces is often ambivalent. Authentic connection within our professional contexts can have its tensions, particularly now when tremendous stress, worry, and anxiety come at us from all angles – global, national, local, and in our own homes. Another holiday season in these uncertain times can bring more pressure and tremendous fatigue.
When asked at work, “how are you feeling,” how candid will we be, given that so many of us are struggling right now?
As I think of my own answer, I tend to see my unpleasant feelings as problems to be solved, a hiccup to my goal of contentment, and peace inside my own skin. As you can imagine, I have lots of problems to solve when I look at my feelings this way!
Many of the wisest people don’t see distress this way at all. The goal, as Michael Brown says, is not to feel good but to get good at feeling.
Shifting My Feelings
I keep books by Pema Chodron on my bed table so that her counsel of leaning into feelings rather than battling them can seep into my brain while I sleep. I also find myself re-reading this quote from Geneen Roth to remind me of this truth:
“All any feeling wants is to be welcomed with tenderness. It wants room to unfold. It wants to relax and tell its story. It wants to dissolve like a thousand writhing snakes that with a flick of kindness become harmless strands of rope.”
Not easy counsel to take. But, whenever I can get myself to do it, shifting from thinking my feelings away into something less distressing to letting them fully unfold shows a lot of promise for my overall mental state. Allowing my feelings a quiet moment of breathing where they can express themselves is proving a powerful way to move through them rather than building a wall to contain them.
So, are the holidays bringing emotional “gifts” to you like they are to me? Feeling responsible for others’ happiness? Trying to create a perfect holiday? Stirred up by others who don’t see the world as you do? Me, too. Let’s see if we can unwrap some of those gifts and let them move through us, perhaps off into the ether. We might find that some of them aren’t ours to keep after all.
- Geneen Roth, Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
- The Presence Process: A Healing Journey Into Present Moment Awareness by Michael Brown
This blog article was contributed by Margaret Vimont, LCSW, Vice President of Strategy & Service Development at Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.