Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Most of us have certain feelings we’d much rather live without. Like walking through a buffet line, we say, “I’ll take two spoonfuls of those Joy feelings, three helpings of Happiness and a dab of Excitement. Hold the Discouragement please and I really don’t like Sadness. I don’t want any of that.”
If it only worked that way.
What I’ve found is we can learn to reject feelings, but in doing so we reject ALL feelings. When we turn up our nose at Discouragement and Sadness, we actually dampen our capability for feeling Joy and Gratitude.
This is not the worst of it, however. We all have wounds from childhood, adolescence and even adulthood that require healing, and if we can’t feel it, we can’t heal it.
“I don’t know why,” Jessica said to me during a recent counseling session, “but I just don’t want to feel sad anymore. I’ve had enough sadness in my life and I’m not going to feel it anymore. My husband has hurt me deeply and I just don’t want to think about it.”
Jessica’s husband’s pornography addiction had caused her to separate from him. Sickened by her discovery of his “stash,” she was decimated. She had slipped into a lingering depression and feelings of bitterness she could not shake.
“I don’t want to be near him,” she said. “And yet I still love him. I don’t know what to do with my feelings. So, I push away from him.”
“Yes, I think that is what you do,” I said. “It’s common for people to push away from feelings they can’t understand. They feel overwhelmed by their feelings, and so suppress them. In fact, some therapists call that ‘exiling’ our feelings. We send them to Outer Siberia, but they’re still rumbling under the surface.”
“So, why can’t I just let them rumble alone?” she asked. “I don’t need to think about them, do I?”
“Do you really think your sadness and hurt are just going to go away?” I asked.
“I suppose not,” she said slowly. “But boy, I wish they would.”
Jessica and I spent the next several sessions talking about her history of pushing away pain. Raised by alcoholic parents, she shared how she had been left to raise her two younger siblings while her parents worked days and drank during the evenings. She hadn’t thought it was so bad at the time, but in retrospect she could see that there was never anyone there to listen to and ‘sit with’ her feelings. Subsequently, she didn’t know how to attend to her own feelings.
We worked on several ways that would help her heal from her immediate pain with her husband, as well as childhood trauma she hadn’t fully accepted.
First, you must acknowledge your emotional pain. This is not an easy process, especially if you’ve spent years denying your pain. You must spend time looking inward, practicing identifying feelings. It will likely take working with a professional counselor to help you do this.
Second, learn to name your feelings, attending to them. Like lost children, your feelings need loving attention. Just as you would with your own children, you sit with these nearly forgotten parts of your Self. Rediscover Sadness, Hurt, Rejection, Abandonment and perhaps even Numb.
Third, listen to these feelings. What do they have to say to you? For example, perhaps you are terribly sad about patterns of interaction with your mate. Perhaps you’ve been abandoned for years and haven’t truly acknowledged it. Perhaps you feel Fear, and need to listen to what Fear has to say to you. Acknowledge being frightened and listen carefully to what you need to feel safe.
Fourth, learn to grieve losses. Some of your life is irretrievable. You can’t get some things back. Perhaps you’ve lost some innocence. Perhaps you’ve been violated in tragic ways. Maybe you have suffered emotional or even physical violence. You need a Safe Container (again, perhaps with a trained Counselor/ Psychologist) where you can grieve and fully appreciate your losses.
Fifth, discover what needs to change. Our feelings are powerful indicators of what is missing in our lives. Loneliness, for example, tells us we need companionship. Hurt tells us we need comfort. Sadness tells us we need to mourn losses. Fear tells us we need support and ways to courageously face a situation. You may also need to make changes in your life so you feel safe and secure.
Finally, accept yourself. God can honor your losses and even restore and heal you. God wants to bless you and uses all of our losses and hurts to bring you closer to Him. (Jeremiah 29:11) As you accept yourself, you can talk about your losses. You need not keep any aspect of your past or present a secret. As you feel your pain, God can heal your pain.
Please read more about these issues in my best-selling book, “When Pleasing Others is Hurting You” and explore more about my Marriage Intensives and Wildfire Marriage Interventions at www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com. Send comments to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.