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Getting Past the Fear of Feelings

July 18, 2023 Michaela Jarvis

One surprising part of my mental health recovery journey was experiencing heightened emotions. I had successfully dodged painful feelings for years, developing a fear of feeling. But now that I'm recovering, I've felt my emotions more deeply, in almost an overwhelming way. Fear of feeling can be difficult to navigate, but it ultimately enhances my life experiences.

My Fear of Feeling Didn't Stop Me from Feeling

While struggling with my mental illness, it felt as if I had my emotions on mute because of my fear of feeling. This realization was odd for me because whenever I was asked, "What is bipolar?", I often responded that I "feel my highs very high and my lows very low."

That explanation did personally hold true, although it was not all-encompassing.

I thought, "If I am having high highs and low lows, why do I still feel numb?"

In my depression, my mind went vacant, and during mania, I scavenged for this artificial sense of good.

Looking back, I did have deep feelings, often painful ones, during both depressive and manic episodes. Suicidal ideations and intrusive thoughts were frequent visitors. I felt I didn't have these emotions because I numbed intentionally -- blanketing all the "bad thoughts" under unhealthy coping mechanisms.

While working so hard to repress the bad, I ended up suppressing a lot of my positive emotions as well.

Acknowledging the Fear of Feeling

Through the last several years, I've realized just how much emotion I had been repressing. I remember laughing at inappropriate times while others were upset or being told I was cold and unempathetic by people close to me. I know now how much it had hurt me to hear those things, but at the time, I had brushed it off as that's just who I am. 

In full honesty, I was frightened, and I wondered how I could tap into an emotional state and show sympathy. The thought of opening up that way made me feel vulnerable and wildly uncomfortable. Taking on others' emotions on top of the ones I had struggled to bury felt unbearable and unmanageable. 

At the core of who I was as a person -- those actions did not align with me. I hated that version of myself and knew that was not who I was. I was someone who wanted to love those around me. I wanted to feel the heartache that makes joy even more joyful. I wanted to allow myself to fully experience the dark so that I could, in turn, cherish the light.

Don't Fear Feeling, Embrace Feeling

Once I gave myself permission to feel, every emotion felt deeper. While that meant navigating some overwhelming and unpleasant emotions, it also meant I had the opportunity to embrace the positive ones.

It can be terrifying to feel so vulnerable, and the process of learning how to welcome emotions without becoming consumed by them is a skill that takes practice. Journaling, meditating, and therapy became helpful tools for me to find a proper balance.

Now I'm even known to be a crier. Whether they're tears of happiness, sadness, or frustration, I'm grateful for the opportunity to experience the full spectrum. My relationships have grown stronger, my passions more fulfilling, and my appreciation for life more satisfying. I still struggle not to allow these heightened feelings to envelop and linger, but that is part of the learning process, and I am still on my way.

The fear of feelings is daunting, but the experience of embracing the good emotions, along with the bad, in a healthy way makes life much more fulfilling.

APA Reference
Jarvis, M. (2023, July 18). Getting Past the Fear of Feelings, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2023/7/getting-past-the-fear-of-feelings



Author: Michaela Jarvis

Michaela Jarvis is continuously on her road to self-improvement while managing bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the life challenges that come with being in your 20s. Find Michaela on Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.

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