We really can choose how we want to feel…!

by lilysauvage

I don’t know about you, but personally, I’ve always found it unnerving when people toss around maxims like, “we choose our feelings” or “we are each responsible for our own feelings” or “nobody can make you feel what you do,” etcetera, etcetera…Not only did this conjure up feelings of inadequacy in me, but mainly, I don’t like feeling confused. And this particular adage confused the f*** out of me. And feeling confused is often a trigger toward feeling out of control. Not a good thing for Lily. 😉 But today, I feel lighter. Yes, today is a good day. And why? Because I believe I have actually landed upon what that saying really means! And I did this quite by happenstance. Allow me to elaborate…

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that it began around the same time that I decided to put myself on a 40 day Self-Compassion journey. Since then (now well beyond the 40 days!), I’ve been diligently showing myself respect, nurture, and love in ways I’ve never before realised were possible. I have seen huge changes in the way I handle things, and a few of the more significant changes have been posted on this blog. Today, I’ll be posting yet another of those changes, as I explain how that once unsettling phrase has suddenly become clear to me.

(To continue with this post, I need to explain that I have a name for my inner child, which happens to also be the nic-name my beloved Grandpa Jack had for me back in the day. As I’m not ready, however, to share that name with the public, I’ll be referring to her as just “Lil,” which is also a shortcut way to saying “little.”)

Over the holiday weekend, I invited my Irish husband over for what has become our shared non-traditional celebration over what is commonly referred to as “Thanksgiving,” but which I have chosen to celebrate with my Cherokee ancestors in mind. This leaves little room for traditional Thanksgiving festivities, needless to say. We had loads of fun, both of us allowing our inner children out to play, and getting much closer than we have been in a very long time. It was the best. We even decided to decorate the tree together on friday! Come late that night, however, things changed, and quite suddenly, my Lil felt threatened and needed to retreat. Immediately sensing this, I put my hand to my Heart, a physical act, which I have recently learned to associate with Self-compassion, whether I’m able to speak soothing words to her or not. Despite what was happening around me, I managed to stay in that space with her. Her safety and trust in me is of the utmost, as I continue to coax her out of her hiding place. It may take a long while before she fully trusts me, but I’m not giving up on her – ever again….

My husband left on saturday afternoon with the gap between us wider still. He has since withheld the warmth and love he gave me on those two blissful days. In the past, this would have infuriated me. In all likelihood, I’d have sent a long email going on and on about myself and how all this was making me feel, and it may have been peppered with a few “how dare yous” and other attempts at trying to get him to hear my hurt and reach out to me. To fix me. To make it all better. To meet my needs. And I certainly would not have shown any concern for his feelings. No, only mine, because mine would be all that mattered as Lil screamed and hollered for her unmet needs to be tended.

Instead of doing that, however, I have stayed connected to Lil. I have spent significant time with her, asking her, “what do you need? what do you want? what would you like to do?” I have stayed present and aware of how she’s feeling, and by doing this, I have been able to meet her needs. She has expressed feelings of fear, abandonment, and confusion. But instead of punishing her for those feelings (through verbal or physical abuse) or ignoring them altogether, thereby causing her to scream or act out until they’re met, I’ve acknowledged them. I have not indulged them, but I have let her know I understand long enough for her to feel heard. Before she can justify sulking in a corner to lick her wounds for days on end, however, I have explained to her that she has nothing to fear, because I am here now, and I will protect her; I will never hurt her or let anyone else hurt her. And I have eased her confusion by also explaining to her that she is not being punished, she has done nothing wrong, that her playmate’s sudden retreat has nothing to do with her. I will administer the healing balm to her wounds. I have quite literally spent time telling her the things she needs to hear to feel safe again, and it’s amazing how little time that has actually taken. She’s pure and simple. She doesn’t need much. Just reassurance from me that she’s safe and protected and not a bad girl. We forget how easy it truly is to love a child, don’t we. But it is, and in so doing, I’ve learned that as I meet her needs, they quickly dissolve into a space of trust and calm, and suddenly, I’m realising that I have just chosen how I feel. 

Remarkable, isn’t it?

I wish this ability for my husband. I truly do. He sent me one of those emails I used to send. Granted, his wasn’t full of direct accusation and threatening statements (our pasts are vastly different), but it was evident that he was reaching out for me to meet his needs, to make him feel all better, to replenish him again, as I had over those two amazing days…He did not show concern for or ask how I was doing since the sudden departure of that bliss. I was tempted to yield to Lil’s desire to kick and scream, but instead, I returned that email with a calm, truthful, and compassionate reply and was thus, better able to express the real need behind her desire for a tantrum. I was even able to reach out to his little boy, who was clearly not getting his needs met by my husband. By doing it this way, I let Lil know I had it under control. This gives her the message that as long as I’m there, she can rest easily, knowing her needs will always be met. (And she has my full permission to get my attention if I ever ignore her again. You read it here!)

So here’s to Lil, for trusting me enough to let me know how she’s feeling, and here’s to the Phoenix I’m becoming, for listening to her and realising that by meeting her needs on my own, not by pressuring someone else to do it for me, I am finally able to not only grasp the meaning of that once unnerving maxim, but I am also able to accomplish its challenge!