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Powering Through vs Feeling Through

In a society that says that feelings are weakness, we spend too much time stuffing down our feelings instead of dealing with them and then wondering why we feel so bad all of the time. 

Today, I’m talking about the difference between powering through a tough situation and feeling through it instead so that you can honor your full range of human emotions and learn to work through the pain instead of avoiding it. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode:

  • Distinguishing between powering through something that’s hard and feeling through something that’s hard
  • How powering through causes harm and why it shouldn’t be celebrated as a strength
  • What I’ve learned from finally processing and feeling the uncomfortable emotions I’ve been avoiding for years

Listen to the podcast here:

Powering Through vs. Feeling Through

Hello, hello! I really have been debating sharing this with you because this is a messy behind the scenes take on my life but I know that there’s a valuable lesson in this so here we go. 

2020 was hard. And I have a great episode coming out soon with the lovely Justine Sones where we discuss the effects of pandemic trauma and stress on our lives and how we can take better care of ourselves. Which was such an amazing conversation, I can’t wait for you to listen to it. 

But if the pandemic taught me nothing else, it taught me the ability to distinguish the difference between powering through something that’s hard and feeling through something that’s hard. 

If you’re anything like me, then you power through something usually to avoid something uncomfortable. Probably your feelings or your loneliness or your stress. You keep your brain busy by doing something, anything else. It could be work or exercise or saying yes to every blessed thing you possibly can just so you don’t have free space in your day to pause long enough to feel anything that is scary or uncomfortable. 

That’s powering through. And it’s hurting us. It hurts us because we’re not meant to exist in that state of constant busy-ness all of the time. We need rest. We need to turn our brains off and be one with our couch. We need to sleep and feed ourselves and take a shower and stare at the wall. 

If you’re anything like me, then you power through something usually to avoid something uncomfortable. Click To Tweet

I read a quote a few years ago that said that part of existing is taking time out of your life to stare at the wall and do literally nothing. At the time, that felt like a fate worse than death. And now I probably do it a couple of times a week and it actually feels nice. I stare at the wall. No TV, no phone in my hand. I don’t call it intentional meditation, but I stare at the wall and zone out. And it’s great. 

Because when we’re so caught up in powering through that we don’t experience any of the pain, we also end up shutting ourselves off from feeling joy. When you numb one emotion, you tend to numb them all. They’re all a little bit less bright and intense.

It doesn’t make you bad or less than or weak or whatever it is you tell yourself when you just need to turn on a sad movie and have a good cry or you make yourself feel guilty because you’re not being productive while you’re relaxing. 

If you are a high achiever, I know you can relate to that. If you’re sitting on the couch and not doing anything, you feel guilty. Like you should be cleaning the kitchen or folding the laundry or whatever. Doing nothing is doing something. Just sitting on the couch is doing something. The same thing can be said for making plans. If you want to sit on your couch and do nothing, that’s a plan. And that’s a plan that you can say no to other plans for. I promise, I do it all the time. 

Doing nothing is doing something. Just sitting on the couch is doing something. Click To Tweet

And the problem with powering through is that it’s celebrated in our society. It’s celebrated in hustle culture, it’s celebrated in every athlete’s story of how their single mom devoted every moment of her life to helping her kids succeed. I seriously hate wonder-mom stories because moms are real people who tend to get stuck being seen as someone only passionate about their kids’ success. We should really stop romanticizing moms who sacrifice everything for their children, including themselves. Because we don’t have the same narrative about fathers. But I digress.

Powering through is celebrated as a good work ethic and dedication to your clients and your business or your job. Really, though, it’s just avoidance.

And I’m not saying that powering through isn’t necessary every once in a while. We’ve all been there, staring down a deadline when we could not possibly function and get it done if we didn’t shut everything down and push to get it out. It happens. Of course it does.

But when it becomes a habit or a lifestyle or a way of being then it gets to a point where it isn’t serving you. It’s a crutch or a coping mechanism. 

And y’all I’ll level with you. Feeling through is hard. I’m not saying that to scare you off from it, because I do genuinely want you to get to a place where you can do this for yourself. But I’m just going to be honest. No one wants to be sad or angry or scared. And certainly not for prolonged periods of time. But I’ve learned that avoiding feeling my feelings doesn’t make them go away. It just shoves them down and down, compressing them until I can’t help but explode all over anyone in a ten foot radius. 

I’ve learned that avoiding feeling my feelings doesn’t make them go away. It just shoves them down and down. Click To Tweet

For me that explosion looks like a panic attack and an existential freakout about how terrible I am at everything and everyone hates me and soon they’ll stop pretending and never want to speak to me again. And, as you can imagine, it’s not very fun. 

That’s the thing. Powering through doesn’t stop me from feeling the emotions. It just stops me from feeling them in the moment, which really removes a lot of my power from the situation because if I decide to feel my feelings in the moment and just acknowledge them right then and right there, then I have control over when I process them versus waiting until I have a panic attack, which I have far less control over. 

Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to trigger that. You don’t know where your breaking point is. It washes over you when you least expect it sometimes and usually when you’re super busy. And as I’m thinking about this, I’m realizing that this hasn’t actually happened to me in months. Bottling it up and then spewing it all over my best friends hasn’t happened to me in MONTHS.

And fuck that feels so good. 

It hasn’t been easy getting to this place, I’ll admit. But in the last half of 2020, circumstances forced me to either finally implode once and for all or learn how to sit with myself and be uncomfortable and feel things that I wasn’t used to feeling. 

I had to learn to sit with thoughts like “you’re such a failure” and just feel all the shitty feelings that came up with that thought. Anger, sadness, fear, disgust. I had to feel them to realize 1) that the feelings wouldn’t kill me and 2) that thought isn’t true. 

In three years of therapy and mindset coaches, I couldn’t overcome that thought until I just forced myself to sit in the feelings without making myself feel any which way for having them. 

In three years of therapy and mindset coaches, I couldn’t overcome that thought until I just forced myself to sit in the feelings without making myself feel any which way for having them. Click To Tweet

I’d spent such a long time trying to intellectualize why I was having those thoughts and where do those thoughts come from. When really what I needed to do was just let it be. Let the feelings that it created exist without telling myself that this is bad. This is wrong. We shouldn’t be feeling this so that I could realize it wasn’t true. 

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know in that moment, everything is crashing around you. It’s hitting you. It’s hard to think clear, rational thoughts. But if you just sit there and let the feelings wash over you and you use whatever coping mechanisms you have to feel the feelings and process them through your body, the panic attack eventually ends. 

Then you realize that you survived a panic attack. And for me, each time I can consciously realize that and consciously work through triggers, I know that I’ll probably survive the next one, right? 

And listen, it’s a learned behavior. Especially when we live in a society that sees feelings as weakness. But feelings are human and they pass. They always do in one way or another. Even in the grips of anxiety and depression and other mental health diagnoses, you aren’t likely to feel terrible 100% of the time. 

So after months and months of practicing not just feeling, but identifying my feelings, it’s now so much easier to let them flow through. I don’t enjoy it. I still don’t enjoy that rush of uncomfortable emotions. I don’t enjoy the squeezing feeling in my chest or the way my palms get sweaty or when my face gets really hot. But I do know that they pass so much faster now that I don’t resist them.

And all this practice has made me so much better at recognizing when I need to push through and when I can just feel my way through whatever is coming up for me in the moment. Click To Tweet

And all this practice has made me so much better at recognizing when I need to push through and when I can just feel my way through whatever is coming up for me in the moment. Which is such a valuable skill.

A lot of the time, it’s hard to recognize those situations in real time because you want to run from the feeling so badly that it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t have time for this right now. The more you allow yourself to do it, the more you give yourself the space to feel and process, the easier it is to recognize when you should power through or feel through. 

It’s okay to say that you’ll come back and push through whatever it is you have to do later, when you can take 10 or 20 minutes to step away and work through that feeling. Maybe that looks like going for a walk, or knitting, or dancing it out.  

Because like it or not, we are still actively living a prolonged trauma. People are still getting sick and dying by the hundreds per DAY. Republicans are doing their best to disenfranchise millions of voters of color and restrict bodily autonomy in people with uteruses. Police are still operating on bloated budgets and killing unarmed black and brown people. And DeSantis is doing his level best to turn Florida into a fascist stronghold. 

Learning to feel the feelings you’ve been avoiding for who knows how long among trauma like that is not just scary. It’s terrifying and it’s hard. It’s so fucking hard, y’all. And let’s be honest, it fucking sucks. But I have to say, honestly I promise, that it’s totally worth it. 

That’s not hyperbole. That’s not me trying to offer you a silver lining for whatever you’re going through right now. None of that toxic bullshit here. This is just me saying that if you are like me and you’ve avoided feeling your feelings for as long as you can remember and you feel prepared to do the work and embrace the suck, then I really hope this has been helpful for you to know that there’s some good that will come of it.

Because as you practice, it gets easier. The feelings don’t swamp your boat and drown you. Click To Tweet

It’s worth every uncomfortable moment, every headache you suffer through from crying, every time you feel like you’re going to die from feeling too much. 

Because as you practice, it gets easier. The feelings don’t swamp your boat and drown you and it’s easier to weather the storm and remind yourself that it will pass and you will be fine. And I want that for you because it is a life changing shift. At least it has been for me.

So the next time you find yourself powering through, I hope that you’ll stop and really ask yourself (and then be honest with your answer) if you are powering through because you NEED to. You need to meet a deadline or finish this thing or cross that item off your to do list. Or are you powering through because you’re avoiding feeling whatever it is that’s coming up for you.

And if it’s that second one then I hope that you are able to sit with whatever feelings you’re avoiding and let them wash over you. Let them swamp your boat so that you can realize you won’t drown and that the next time it gets a little easier. 

Alright. That’s it for me today. Bye, y’all.

 

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