I don’t like feelings very much. I don’t like them because they are vulnerable and raw and I’d rather be covered and safe. I don’t like them because they show weakness and fear and much worse, shame. I am uncomfortable with emotions and will push them away in the name of logic and sound reasoning and my version of truth. I can listen to your feelings, think about feelings and even talk about my own. But actually feel my feelings? No thanks, never happening.
That is, until I started going to counseling. My little world shattered as my counselor rudely and beautifully encouraged me to feel. She asked me to write down my feelings in a journal, at least 5 days a week. When she gave me the assignment, I thought I could seriously do it in my sleep. How hard would it be for a 23-year-old to write out her emotions?
Feelings are difficult. Especially when they are hard feelings. Especially when you desperately want to report feelings of joy, excitement, hope and contentment. And really, you look down on your page and all you see is:
I felt tempted to skip those days and report the happiness. Report the good stuff. But my counselor gently reminded me that it’s okay to feel. And it’s okay to feel sad, scared, stuck. And it’s okay to feel uneasy about feeling sad, scared, stuck.
It’s okay to feel.
Because really, it’s in the feeling of all our crappy emotions that we learn. It’s in the feeling of them that we will grow and that we release and that we will ultimately heal. The situations we go through are not so much what teach us, it’s the pain and the frustrations and the joy of those situations that mold us and impact us for years to come. And it’s in the safety of a counseling room that we have the freedom to explore those feelings.
In your 20’s, your childhood is still fresh and yet distant enough to explore. Your decisions are big enough to shape the rest of your life. Your pains are deep, yet not buried and stale. You are establishing who you are yet you are still mold-able. And it’s in these pivotal years that we can be willing to go there, to really go there and expose the depths of our baggage and the worries of our future.
Counseling gives us permission to really feel the pressure and disappointment and insecurity we experienced when our parents demanded our best efforts in exchange for their approval. Counseling helps us explore the feelings of brokenness, longing and regret over a past failed relationships. It helps us uncover the despair, pain and bitterness rooted in a traumatic experience.
You see, we live in a culture that likes to focus on the event, the experience, the situation. Friends lovingly ask us questions to gain more content, give advice and offer their own experiences. Pastors encourage us about a particular situation and pray with us. Parents hug us. And we love them for it and we thank God for them; but, at the end of the day, they aren’t trained to help us feel. They aren’t trained to go there with us. And as scary and beautiful and exposing as it may be, it’s what heals. In the counseling room, the content just helps us get to the root: the hard emotions buried deeply within.
I think we, as Christians, tend to discredit the value of emotions. And while acting on feelings can sometimes lead to negative consequences, I must argue that to ignore emotions is to ignore an intricate and critical part of our identity as Jesus-followers. After all, Jesus felt many emotions as He walked this earth: He was full of compassion, moved by anger, grieved with tears over sin, and overcome with joy. To really model Christ and His life, I’m learning that we must be okay with feeling our feelings.
So, I’m a firm believer that every 20-something should go to counseling. Not because we are all deeply troubled and despairing, but because we are human. We are human and we have emotions rooted in past experiences that we’ve pushed down for far too long. We must let them come to the surface. We must embrace the process of feeling if we ever hope to cross the other side to the healing our souls desperately need.
photo by (flickr CC) Martin Prochnik