Big Feelings

Today, I was debating if and how to write about my tendencies when it comes to sex, love and relationships. I have some new insights about them, but I am not quite ready to share them as sharing them is one of my tendencies. As I sat at my computer I was confused and hesitant (still am) so I decided to check out my Twitter feed to see what people were up to. There I found an article that piqued my interest and inspired me to write a sex-ed type commentary about it. Well, that then turned into a personal type post. I was back where I started, but looking in a different direction.

Yep, I love how writing can do that.

I came across an article by Charlie Glickman about his experience with testosterone. It’s a great personal piece on this physical aspect of being biologically male, but I got more from it than just an appreciation for how testosterone can affect the body and the mind. He ends the piece with thoughts on managing impulses and feelings. This jumped out at me.

As an example, if I see someone I find attractive, it can feel like my impulse to look at them is beyond my control. It’s no wonder that so many cultures try to manage men’s sexualities by controlling women’s behavior. After all, if I can’t control myself, then external circumstances need to be controlled so I don’t get set off. The difference, of course, is that it can feel like things are beyond my control without that actually being true. We need to hold onto both of those pieces at the same time if we’re going to make any positive changes. We need to acknowledge how things feel AND the deeper truth that our feelings don’t always reflect what’s happening outside of our heads. When we can do that, we can support learning better tools with which to respond to our feelings.

I really appreciated this comment of his. It’s about recognizing certain realities about sexuality, but also the stories we tell ourselves about it, and responding with care and compassion – not control or suppression.

These past few years have mainly been for me about learning healthy strategic ways to respond to my big strong feelings. In the past I was an escape artist. Sometimes I would literally run away when things felt intense – even good feelings would have me do that because they brought about anxiety and fear of the unknown (like when I was falling for someone new).

Another favourite was to dull feelings with heavy carb meals. When I was  feeling overwhelmed I ate what I called my white diet – toast for breakfast, pancakes and syrup for lunch, and mashed potatoes and gravy for supper. This was comfort food gone extreme. I would end up cuddled in bed avoiding people, feelings – life.

Booze also was another part of my escape artistry. I can be very tightly wound up and booze helped me let go. I felt I deserved the alcohol induced release because I was so good at being a ‘good girl’ in my sober times. But the feeling of release was fake and short lived. When I am drunk often my emotions overwhelm me even more and this has led to unpleasant and destructive social consequences (saying things I do not truly mean, hurting friends’ feelings) – not every time but enough times to damage my image and some friendships. Part of me wishes I didn’t care but I do. I am human and I am a social creature and need to be connected to others. Plus, the negative physical stuff that happens the next day –  my body hates that I went beyond 2 drinks – have left me out of life’s activities in a different way.

It took me a while to come to terms on how all this escaping was only temporary. I would always be right back with uncomfortable feelings (inadequacy, anger, fear) plus some additional ones (shame, guilt and sadness). What an awesome cycle.

Now, being an escape artist is not my go-to strategy. Yes, my feelings are as intense as ever, but I am not so afraid of them. I can tolerate them. I can even explore them. I acknowledge them and look at them with a non-judgemental eye. By sitting with my feelings without reacting to them (even I just pause for a moment) I experience compassion for myself as well as others.

And consequently I don’t fuck things up as much as used to. definitely a much better strategy than being an escape artist.

As I was writing that last bit I took a break and checked my Twitter feed. I came across another great article from someone I follow. This time it is from a Buddhist perspective. It jumped at me because it was about the consequences of reactivity versus responsiveness. Oh! Convergence! Another thing that I love when it happens!

When we feel these negative feelings, it’s extremely difficult to respond to life because we are too busy reacting to our painful emotions. On the other hand, when we respond to life, we take the time to quiet our minds and silence the noise before we offer our words of wisdom.

Of course, we don’t set out to hurt others with our words, especially those whom we love. Hurtful words come from hurting hearts, and although we think it will feel better once it’s out, it never does.

The author of this article suggests taking a break when a strong negative emotion occurs, breathe very deeply and with the exhale letting out the all the noise and with the next inhale to replace it with a positive affirmation. I can see the beauty and power in this and I have used this kind of breathing before. However, recently I found something that seems to work even better for me. If you also deal with big strong feelings, maybe it will help you.

Its called Tonglen Meditation. I read about it in the book If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path. Briefly, Tonglen Meditation is a breathing practice where as you inhale you take in suffering and as you exhale you breathe out compassion. When I have those big strong feelings I now use this breathing technique and it helps transform my feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, sadness and hurt into care, relaxation, clarity and comfort.

So, now let me bring this back to sexuality. :-)

Sexual feelings can be strong. We can feel overpowered by them. Not only the randy ‘I want to get it on’ feelings, but those that surround sexuality – like anxiety, shame, judgement, embarrassment, and fear. Taking a moment to feel those feelings can help you manage them and change them into something more positive and satisfying. Escaping them, hiding from them or pretending they do not exist will only make things worse.

I know this seems like common sense, but from my own experience and from those of many readers who share their stories with me, it’s all too easy to get stuck in the avoidance techniques rather than the recognition ones. I am not sure why we stick with the ones that make things worse rather than better. Maybe because we are taught the harmful ones rather than the healing ones. I find now that I am learning other ways of dealing with big strong feelings and impulses, I am rather at peace with myself. I still have desires and goals. I know not everything is as I wish it to be (not by a long shot), but I am inspired and empowered.

Mindfulness has me quite excited. I think looking at how it can play a role in a satisfying sex life is very intriguing.  If you have explored mindfulness as a part of your sexuality or in your life in general, I would love to hear from you in the comments. And if you have questions, let’s explore them together.

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