Insight on why "releasing feelings" doesn’t work and how to accept what comes no matter what.
Written by Daniel Mullerworth with love and support from Kelsey 'Lotus' Wong.
Sometimes we get triggered. We feel hurt, or angry, or sad. And maybe many other things too. Understanding what’s going on can be like trying to pick up soup with chopsticks. Confusing and frustrating.
Moreover, very often it’s the same pattern playing out, the same old trigger. Just dressed up in a different set of circumstances and pretending to be a completely different problem.
Often people talk about how we should “release” such feelings. As a result we may feel we have to act, to do something special to get rid unwanted of feelings so they never come up again.
This language of releasing is such a distraction. We tie ourselves in knots searching for some way to “do releasing”.
How does it play out? We go to a therapist, or a workshop, or give ourselves some special experience in the hope of shedding whatever feelings we don’t like. Afterwards, if we feel better we may say to a friend “Oh my God, it was so powerful, I had such a release!”
Such experiences can be cathartic, and that feels great. But at some point that pattern reasserts itself and those feelings reappear.
Or if we don’t feel better, we may tell a different story about failing to release. About being impossible. About being a failure.
The truth is that the idea of releasing is all back-to-front. There’s no option to remove aspects that we don’t like. There’s no garbage heap for unwanted feelings.
We’re on a one-way street to wholeness. There is no separating our self from our self; we can’t go the other way.
We have just two options:
We can try to get on with life and leave those feelings for another time.
Or we can make space to integrate them into our being.
This is the whole menu that we get to choose from.
The first is like hitting the pause button. There are times when we really need a rest. We need a breather and some space to get our shit together and come back to ourselves. In those times taking a break is the healthy thing to do.
Pauses are good and pauses can be really important and helpful, but pauses are temporary.
Unfortunately, taking a break can become a strategy for hiding from the feeling. Then it becomes a subtle - or not so subtle - form of self-rejection. We tell a story that makes it easier to get by. Yet it includes pushing away the aspect of self that is having a problem. Essentially we are saying to that part, “Shut up, your feelings are not important”. So, we hear that our feelings are not important. That hurts.
The second option is the only clear direction we can take, which is to integrate what we have inside. This means coming to peace with the plain fact that these feelings exist. It means accepting them as part of ourselves and treating our whole self with kindness.
It’s the inner recognition that, “OK, so there’s no releasing. And my choice is Wholeness Now (integrate), or Wholeness Later (pause). How do I integrate?”
We must show ourselves that we are willing to sit with the feelings even if they last forever.
Imagine a little girl who has no friends in school. She just doesn’t believe that anyone could ever like her - so much so she won’t try to make friends. She may even sabotage relationships just to prove she’s right. She believes she needs to protect herself from rejection, and it’s going to take quite some convincing for her to change her mind.
In the same way, we may need quite some convincing. Especially if we already have years of experiencing self-rejection.
The convincing happens only if we become big enough to always offer space to ourselves. Over and over again. Your feelings are always invited; you’re always invited.
That’s it. There’s no lightning bolt of release. Just gently applied love.
If you practice this, maybe the feelings will dissolve this time, or maybe they won’t. Maybe they never will.
This is a practice of self-love. And the thing about love is that it is its own reason for being. Love doesn’t need a result, ever.
Sitting with the feelings just as they are in this present moment. Inviting ourselves in with a feeling of patience and kindness and welcoming.
Then, and only then, is that little person free to let go of their fear and come to the party.
"Love says I am everything. Wisdom says I am nothing. Between the two my life flows.” ~ Nisagaratha Maharaj
If you can’t practice self-love in this moment, practice self-acceptance.
Ask yourself, “Can I accept this feeling?”
If your honest answer is “No", ask instead, “Can I accept that I can’t accept this feeling?”
If again you get a “No", ask, “Can I accept that I can’t accept that I can’t accept this feeling?”
Eventually, you’ll receive a “Yes”
This is the real release. Through acknowledgment and acceptance, we allow our feelings to be present but not to run the show. You ride the wave instead of letting the wave ride you.
There is always an opportunity to accept. And as you exercise your acceptance muscle it will become so strong that you eventually you will be able to accept anything that comes.
What could be more powerful and liberating than that?
Daniel Mullerworth is a transpersonal hypnotherapist and former Buddhist monk. Daniel's passionate curiosity is helping people come into greater resonance with dharma - finding alignment with self, in relationships and the natural world.