How often have you experienced a feeling and then took a few minutes to sit with it and fully analyze it? Taking time to Feel my Feelings was a whole new concept for me when I first started working with my life coach. Together, we identified that I needed some major work in processing my feelings. But how could it happen that I was nearly 40 years old and only learning this now?
As you recall, the “Cognitive Triangle” consists of Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions/Behaviors. For years, much of my emphasis in the thought model was placed on Actions - with an ultimate concern for Outcomes. As an athlete and student, my focus was outcome driven – and not surprisingly, so too was my eventual career working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Through my own Cognitive Coaching, I learned to use my feelings as a thermometer. Perhaps if I learned this earlier in life, I could have avoided the development of some bad habits over the years to avoid processing negative emotions. My primitive brain had become a pro at giving me instant gratification. Even at an early age, eating emerged as a form of escaping my undesirable feelings. I became a true Emotional Eater, and the urge to indulge with tasty treats often felt impossible to resist.
(OK.. That was a huge understatement).
More often it was OVERINDULGENCE – and while I knew it was not a healthy habit, eventually my willpower would fail me as my prefrontal cortex was inevitably overcome with decision fatigue, and I believed I had no other choice but to give into my urge. Once I started, I often could not stop.
The scenario was predictable. By the end of a shift in the hospital, I was exhausted from my long hours. My exhaustion made me feel defeated. The feeling of defeated was so uncomfortable that I would numb it with a carb fest. The following morning, I would be disappointed with my decision and engaged in negative self talk. And if I can leave you with one thing…negative self talk is not the answer and simply put, it is PURE BADNESS. And what was my remedy for the subsequent uncomfortable feelings that emerged from negative self-talk? You guessed it, further Emotional Eating. Are you sensing a pattern here?
I honestly despised this vicious circle of emotional eating. To add more salt to the wound, I now had two impressionable little girls and wanted to be a positive role model for them. I wanted them to grow up with positive body image and a healthy relationship with food.
I knew I needed a drastic change. I was committed now more than ever and my reason to avoid emotional eating was greater than my wellbeing alone.
I committed to CBT through my Life Coach. As days and weeks and months went by, the necessary work became clear. I had to be willing to feel any feeling. If I was willing to feel any feeling, then I would not eat emotionally. If I was not willing to feel any feeling, then I would eat emotionally. Was it really that simple? I knew the result that I wanted, so now I had to be willing to feel any feeling.
I am a scientist, so the research was fascinating to me. I discovered that the feelings that made me want to eat emotionally were usually fatigue, restlessness, and defeat. I embraced my uncomfortable feelings and processed them even further, and found that restlessness was by far the most uncomfortable for me.
When I felt restless, it made me want to clean the house, sweep the floor, eat the food, and become extra critical of others actions. When I sat with restless, an image of a person sitting in a corner vigorously withdrawing from caffeine came to mind. Why would I ever want to subject myself to this. But, if I wanted to change my behavior, I had to be willing to feel restless.
So how did I feel my feeling of restless? I evaluated it completely. Restless took on the color red, the shape of a spiky ball, its texture was smooth with sharp edges, it was very fast moving, and I could feel it burning in my lower esophagus. The thought that was creating this feeling was, “everyone needs something from me right now.” By thinking that everyone needs me right now and me feeling restless, I wanted to eat, drink, crawl into a closet, vacuum the floor repeatedly, and turn on Facebook.
By realizing that my thought was creating my feeling and result, my solution became clearer. I needed to change my thought. But, surprisingly, I wasn’t ready to change my thought. This wasn’t as horrible as I imagined. I decided that I wanted to to continue to feel this feeling. Feeling feelings is being alive. Feeling feelings is being human.
If you are having trouble targeting your feelings and learning to process them, then consider reading my earlier blogs on cognitive behavioral coaching. The human experience is unique to humans so why not embrace all of it. To learn more about this process and how it may benefit you, take advantage of my complimentary consult call. Your journey awaits…..