What you’re feeling is between you and you

by julia on August 31, 2014

(I facilitate a wonderful group called the Life Alignment Program. An excellent question came up from one of the members and I decided to share my response here.) 

The question: “Isn’t the point to express feelings, whenever and wherever, in order to be transparent and authentic?”

Communicating about your emotional world to those around you is a powerful step towards living a more authentic life. However, I think people get confused as to the goal of that communication. Specifically, it’s easy to get caught up in telling you what I’m feeling so you’ll DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Maybe you’ll remember to be on time, or you’ll be nicer, or you’ll understand me better, or see the conflict from my perspective, or…or…(just fill in the blank).

This is a pivot-point in relationship entanglement, an eddy people get caught in and have trouble jumping out of. If I say something and your body gets triggered, it’s pretty challenging to not see that as cause and effect. And–IT ISN’T.

What you’re feeling is between you and you.

Here’s how that works:

Emotions are simple physiological events. The only meaning they have is between you and you. What they communicate is important for you, but quite irrelevant for everyone else (besides those who are interested in understanding you better). Just like you might want someone to know you have indigestion or a headache, you may want to tell them about your anger/fear/sadness/joy/sexual feelings.

For example, sensations that you read as “anger” are telling you that you’re perceiving an intrusion on, or you’re currently creating resistance with the world as it is (anger as perception of intrusion or obstacle). Those sensations don’t mean there IS an intrusion or obstacle, just that you’re interacting with the world that way. They are feedback between you and you and so potentially are cues to for you to change something (take an action or change your perception about the intrusion/obstacle/resistance).

Similarly, sensations of:

• Throat/chest heaviness (aka sadness) tell you you’re perceiving that some sort of loss.

• Clenched stomach/solar plexus/body, or pounding heart and shaking body (aka fear) communicate that you’re perceiving a threat.

• Expansion through your body, including tingles, warmth, big energy (glad/sexual) tell you that you’re tuned in to your own aliveness, passion, and connection to life energy.

If I tell you that my chest is tight and my jaw clenched, it’s a moment when I’m tuning into me and simply updating you on my inner world and how I’m currently experiencing reality. It isn’t, IN ANY WAY, to imply that you have any responsibility about causing my sensations, fixing them, or doing anything at all about them. (Going back to the indigestion analogy, it’s my body to take care of.) When those emotions are Below the Line (mad/sad/scared) the ONLY THING FOR ME TO DO is to focus on supporting them in moving through my body. (Of course, I could stay in them if I want, though they also are signals that my body is in a stress response.) Then, when I’m back Above the Line (in Creative Brain) I’m available again for connection and to discover new solutions.

So, sure–tell me about your sensations/emotions if you want to. Getting weather reports on other people’s inner worlds is always fascinating to me. I’m especially interested if you’re stuck Below the Line, as knowing your sensations/emotions will give me a reflection of how you’re perceiving reality. And talking about what’s going on in your body will likely bring you into the present, where you can breathe and move and come back Above the Line.


My new book, The Relationship Skills Workbook: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to a Thriving Relationship, comes out on October 1! Preorder a copy here and have relationship tools and skills at your fingertip.

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Depression’s elegy

by julia on August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, our beloved cultural jester, gone by his own hand. How could this be?

For those of us who have struggled with the mighty darkness of depression, hearing about Williams’ suicide is shocking but not surprising. We know about inner monsters, about how full of toxicity the stream of the inner voice can be.

I have no idea what Williams’ journey was like. It sounds tortuously unending, in how the promise of new tomorrows appeared to be interrupted by the reality of how he experienced each moment. As a psychologist and a recovered depressed person, however, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about facing into the darkness. I use the below list as rules for living, ladders that I know now I can climb when I fall back into the pit.


I first read this revolutionary idea in Cheri Huber’s The Depression Book (later re-released as Being Present in the Darkness). I had no idea that my emotions had anything to do with my depression, which now seems quite bizarre in the face of having had years of therapy and having been to graduate school in clinical psychology. Now I can see how my flatness of being has everything to do with the anger, fear, sadness–and joy, and sexuality–that I hadn’t been willing to actually experience in my body.


The corollary to #1, being willing to fully experience the complete cycle of your feelings in your body allows your inner  experience to flow on through.


There is no emotion that is valid or invalid. What is happening in your body–the clench of anger in the jaw, the tightness of fear in the belly, the pain in the heart of sorrow, the sizzle of life energy of sexuality and joy–all of these are your birthright. You get to feel them. Any time. For any reason.


Depression is reliable for its impulse to stay inside, to isolate and just stop. If I notice any signs of depression now, I take them seriously as signals that my body needs to sleep more, to stop relating to the outside, and to look within for what my body is trying to tell me.


I have said many times that my real job is to help people lose their minds. “The mind does not wish the best for you”, said Gail Kali, a dear teacher. Our thoughts only reflect our emotional state. Believing them is like listening to a drunk on the street. Some of it might be useful; all of it is to be questioned.


Since thoughts reflect emotions that are stuck in the body, if you want to change your thoughts, focus on moving the emotions through. Shift moves like breathing, moving, appreciating, wondering, and playing will support this flow.

This rule is particularly important if your thoughts are self-destructive. If you want to hurt yourself in any way (including through addictions, over-exercise, eating poorly, not resting, overworking, or any other way of treating yourself that is not kind and compassionate), your work is in simply allowing the energy of emotions to move through your body.


We have lost a beloved man. Let us honor his life, and his death, by learning  what we can about how to be with our own darkness and to fully embrace what it has to offer us–in life.


Watch for my new book, The Relationship Skills Workbook: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to a Thriving Relationship, due to be coming out October 1st! (Click here for pre-order information.)


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