I recently needed to stop (I mean really stop) everything that I was doing and re-evaluate my priorities. One of the most difficult and life changing parts of this process was confronting my confusion. I’d say that being confused was a pretty big part of my life for a number of years. I thought of it as part of who I was. However, what I’ve come to realize is, that it is actually symptomatic of something larger. This may be the case for you as well – let’s dig in.
Identifying Emotional Confusion
How many times in a week do you have thoughts similar to:
- I don’t know what I think or feel about something that happens or something someone says
- I feel completely indifferent
- I don’t know why someone is telling me something or what to say to them in response
If it’s often (or more than you would like), as it was for me, then you have experienced what I refer to as Emotional Confusion.
According to Merriam Webster to be confused is to be perplexed or disconcerted, disoriented with regard to one’s sense of time, place, or identity, or to be disordered or mixed up.
When it comes to knowing ourselves, we become perplexed and disoriented when we suppress our feelings and emotions. In an effort to avoid experiencing something painful, we may choose to block these out. This makes sense in the moment – sometimes this blocking is necessary for our survival. Even on a smaller scale (than survival) it can be hard to get through the day if we are experiencing something uncomfortable and blocking it out means that we can get on with what we need to do. The problem is, we need our feelings and emotions to guide us. In the most simple way, our emotions (experienced in the body) guide us by telling us if something is safe and pleasurable vs dangerous or painful. Our feelings (more often associated with our thoughts) guide us using our past experiences, knowledge, logic and reasoning. In order to block out a specific feeling or emotion we often need to shut down all of them. By shutting out the thoughts and emotions related to one particular area we may create confusion about how we feel in a multitude of areas in our life. When this happens, making decisions, taking action, feeling happy or content becomes difficult if not impossible.
Once you are ready to move out of survival mode, these are five things I would suggest for healing this confusion and focusing your awareness on your feelings and emotions.
Understand what you were blocking in the first place.
- This may seem obvious, but be aware that it may be the most painful part of the process. It’s very possible to be aware that you are experiencing confusion but not to be aware of what it is you are blocking. In order to start on a path to healing your confusion you need to be free to fully experience feelings and emotions, whatever you were trying to block is holding you back, you need to process your feelings and emotions related to this before you can move forward. Depending on what it is you are blocking this may be a time to reach out for professional support. Ensure that you are setting yourself up for healthy success by understanding who it is you need to reach out to, to support you in this process.
Re-train yourself to experience emotions and feelings.
- Turn your attention inward. Bring awareness to yourself and to your body. Focus on your breathing, spending time focusing only on your inhalations and exhalations. Consciously focus attention on what it “feels like” to be alive and what is happening in your body. This will help to bring awareness to what you are experiencing as an embodied person. As you move through your day, take time to check in with what your body is doing – notice when you are holding your breath vs when you are breathing deeply, when you are holding your shoulder high and near your ears vs when they are down, back and wide, etc. A good way to check in with yourself is a body scan. You can find an example of a body scan exercise here. You can develop a personal version that you can use throughout your day.
- Turn your attention outward. Use your sense to experience the world around. Feel your clothes again your skin. What is that sensation and is it the same throughout your body or do different items of clothing feel different. Focus on the sounds around you. If you are able to be outside when you do this, feel the air, sun, rain, etc. on your skin.
- Surrender to the emotions that you are feeling. Perhaps you are watching a funny show or come to a sad part in a movie, really move into the emotion you are feeling. If this is intimidating, set a time limit for yourself. Agree that you will fully experience the emotion for the next ten minutes and after that you will stop. This practice will help to raise your awareness of the emotions that you are experiencing and also build up your confidence in your ability not to become overwhelmed by the feelings. Try not to place judgement on your emotions, be open to experiencing anger or sadness just as you are joy. A negative emotion will become more manageable and subside more quickly if you allow yourself to experience it. Accept that you may experience a “reaction” to something more than once, understand that this is a healthy part of the process.
- Trust yourself and stop believing that “it is all about you”. In a situation, if you are feeling anxious, nervous, joyous, or frustrated, understand that that is the reality of the situation. The feelings and emotions you experience are not caused by you but are happening because they are a normal part of life. In this recognition, do not try to change the feeling or emotion, just be aware of it, and experience it.
These practices sound intuitive and therefore we can sometimes think that they are easy or that they come very naturally. In fact, many of us have been trained to block and ignore our feelings and emotions and this is holding us back from understanding what we want, being able to express ourselves, and being able to make decisions. These are just a few suggestions on how to focus your awareness on your feelings and emotions and in so doing, help to heal your emotional confusion.
Are you aware that you are blocking feelings or emotions? Are there other practices you find helpful in gaining awareness?