By Joyce & Barry Vissell
Someone once gave Barry and me a small yellow button to wear that says, “You never need to defend or justify your feelings.” I love the message on this button and, though I don’t wear it, I keep it in my desk so it is the first thing I see when I open the drawer. This little message has helped me over and over again, and I would add to the message that you also never have to be ashamed of your feelings.
I really feel my feelings. Sometimes I have to admit that I wish I could turn them off, but I can’t. Barry tells me I am very blessed to feel so deeply, and he wishes he could feel his feelings more often. Sometimes everyone in a room will be acting as if everything is just perfect, yet I can feel that something is off or inharmonious. When I state these unpopular feelings, I can be met with criticism, yet to remain silent is painful. When I try to defend or justify my feelings, it just makes things worse, and I feel worse.
Over the years I have learned it is better to speak my feelings, and in some cases stand up for them. I have a friend who used to hurt me very deeply by the things she would say. Rather than stand up for my feelings, I would be submissive, and try to pretend I was not really hurt. This of course made it all worse. One day she said something very hurtful to me, and I told her I needed to be alone. In my time alone I knew that I needed to apologize to her, yet I kept thinking to myself that she was the one who had said such hurtful words. Finally I realized that I needed to apologize to her for not standing up for my feelings. My feelings are important, and to ignore them is to abandon myself, which doesn’t help any of my relationships.
I further gave my friend my commitment to stand up for my feelings. She appreciated this commitment since she had never intended to hurt me. We have had a very great relationship since then.
Very rarely in our work, a person will sign up for a workshop, and it will not feel right for Barry or me. One time it was Barry that felt a certain woman would not be appropriate for a workshop we were doing in our home. Our attendance was very low, and I overlooked Barry’s objections, and insisted that she and her partner join the workshop. Barry did not stand up for his feelings. It was a nightmare having her in the workshop, and eventually we had to ask her to leave, but not until she had upset every single person in the room including her partner. She even upset our children who were hardly even around.
We talked for a long while after that experience, and realized we needed to honor if one of us felt someone wasn’t appropriate for a workshop. That lasted for 10 years, and just recently it happened again. This time it was me that felt a certain couple was not right for our couple’s retreat. Barry assured me that he had talked to both of them, and felt they would be fine. I still did not feel good about it. I did not stand up for my feelings, and their presence in the workshop was a disaster. Again we talked, and came back to our original agreement of honoring the other’s feelings even if we disagreed.
The wonderful thing about honoring your feelings is that your capacity to feel love and joy are also deepened. The good times are made all the better by honoring all your feelings.
What do you do with the sad, insecure, confused, and painful feelings? I find that if I ask someone to hold me, it can make a big difference in knowing that I am loved by this person. When no one is around to hold me, I will throw my arms around one of our golden retrievers and talk to them. They look at me with beautiful eyes of compassion, and seem to share the experience with me, which helps a lot. Sometimes I am all alone without even a dog around. What to do then? During these times I do a special practice that I would like to share.
I have learned that I can be a mother to myself. During times of painful sadness, I can call upon this loving mother within me to come and comfort myself. I put my arms around myself, and the mother in me “talks” to the painful feelings. I say comforting words and remind myself that my feelings are a gift not just to myself, but to others as well. Once I was on the east coast working while my very young children were home with Barry on the west coast. One night as I was going to sleep I felt overcome with homesickness, and yearned with all my heart to go home. I was completely alone. I put my hands on my heart and began saying words of comfort and love to myself. In time I felt better, and fell into a very peaceful sleep, awaking to a feeling of joy.
Men have told me it is helpful to call upon the father within them, whether they have had children or not. We all have a loving father or mother within us. Some people have so many painful memories of their parents that they cannot picture a loving father or mother comforting them. For these people it is better to call upon a loving teacher or friend, or perhaps an angel. Whatever image you call upon, remember that you are calling upon a higher energy to come and comfort you.
“You never need to defend or justify your feelings.” Our feelings are a gift, to help us better understand ourselves, and the world around us. Our feelings can be a great teacher leading ever more fully into our heart of love.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift. Call Toll-Free 800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299), or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings, or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their website at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:
Feb 7-14, 2016—Hawaii Couples Retreat
June 4-11 — Alaska “Inside Message” Cruise
Jul 19-24—Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR
Oct 14-20—Assisi Retreat, Italy