Fear of Feeling

“So much of [what] leads individuals to seek therapy can be traced to the terror of affect. People disconnect from their emotional experience, afraid of being overwhelmed, humiliated, or revealed as inadequate by the force of feelings, only to pay the price later in depression, isolation, and anxiety.” –Diana Fosha, founder of AEDP

Fear of feelings is huge. I hear it all the time. Clients say: If I let myself feel this sadness, it’ll take over. I’ll become depressed. I’ll stop being able to function.

This fear is often rooted in real experience. Maybe you have this fear because you’ve felt sadness nibbling away at your edges for a long time… weeks, months, years. You find it very distracting and painful, and it feels like it never totally goes away. It makes sense that you assume letting yourself feel more of it will be like opening the floodgates, and you’ll be drowning in sadness.

But the truth is, sadness is not endless. No emotion is. When you let yourself really feel an emotion, the wave washes over you… and it comes to an end. It doesn’t continue forever. The duration of core emotions is measured in seconds or minutes, not years. If you really let yourself feel the full experience of your sadness, it flows, it ebbs, it comes to an end, you feel a sense of relief.

The experience of endless sadness (or other feeling) actually comes with the holding back of emotions. The more you push down, numb out, cut yourself off, the more pressure builds up. The emotion never gets to resolve and complete, and you get stuck with constant low-grade emotion or anxiety. In addition, you often lose ability to feel the emotions you want to feel, like joy and pleasure, or you feel disconnected from others.

Letting yourself experience a difficult emotion like sadness (or anger, or even joy) can feel like a scary risk, but the rewards are big. You can get relief from that emotion that’s been lurking in the shadows for so long. Imagine what it would be like to let that sadness go.