Putting emotions in a box

I used to be a champion at putting  emotions in a box because I was supposed to be the strong one in the family, the strong one in the relationship, the strong friend, the strong boss. I was supposed to sort out everyone else’s problems so I couldn’t take time to wallow in my own could I? So I would just give myself a gentle slap, find a solution to the logistical or practical aspects of the problem if I could and just carry on. If there wasn’t a logistics or practical solution then what was the point in dwelling on it anyway? It was much easier to just file it away and ignore it.

The problem with all that is, if we do not give ourselves time to be honest with how we are feeling (even if we cannot verbalise the ‘why’ or the exact cause of the feeling), our poor minds and bodies have to suffer the consequences. If you keep putting emotions in a box, chaining the boxes shut and filing them away, eventually the boxes are going to get full or you will run out of space to file them and then what happens? The emotions have little choice but to come out in an irrational and uncontrolled way.

That’s what happened to me about 12 years ago. I was in a job where the pressure was immense, my marriage was going through a very rocky patch, I was struggling with the guilt of being a ‘career mum’, my son was under Great Ormond Street hospital and was also being bullied at school, we had moved to a lovely big house but I had the responsibility of earning to pay the mortgage, my parent’s health wasn’t good and I was the nearest of the four children to them, I had been told that I had severe arthritis in my knees but there was nothing that could be done as I was too young to have an operation.

I didn’t have time to wallow, I didn’t have time to get upset, angry, frustrated or any of the other emotions that, through this time, tried to surface so I buried them, I did my usual habit of putting emotions in a box!

And then the straw that broke the camel’s back came at work with the result being that I found myself a blubbering wreck, sliding down the wall of the ladies toilet. I found myself having panic attacks and being unable to work for 6 months.

So I learnt the hard way but I did learn! I did learn that I deserve to look after myself, I deserve to respect my own emotions.

What about you? Do you give your emotions the same respect or do you beat yourself up for having them in the first place? Do you spend time sitting with them, allowing them to process so you can let go of them when the time is right or do you put them in the box and put the lid firmly on?

Some of you may know that I have made some big changes in my life over the last couple of years which includes starting a new relationship with a great guy and moving onto a boat. Yes a boat! It’s fabulous and I love it (but more about that another time!). I am happy and very grateful for everything I have. And yet yesterday I found myself feeling unusually down but I couldn’t verbalise why. I started to try and logically analyse it but that just gave my critical inner voice the chance to slip through the gap and start to go into overload and throw up all sorts of questions that did not make sense to me. So I stopped. I allowed myself to verbalise that things weren’t quite right but I didn’t know what or why and then I allowed myself to just sit with the feeling. I gave myself permission to really concentrate on the feeling and not the thoughts. I sat outside and simply looked at the water and respected whatever it was that was going on for me. And then it finally came to me what the feeling was. It was loneliness. I simply missed my friends.

And that was ok! I had moved away over 100 miles and was living in quite a male orientated environment on the river. We move our boat regularly so it has been more difficult to make more friends in the community so it was perfectly natural and perfectly ok to feel like that! You see the thing also was that now I knew what the feeling was all about, because I had respected it and sat with it, I now had real choice about what to do about it. And it’s not a difficult question to answer. I immediately got on Skype to one of my closest girly friends and had a good old chinwag! And now I can see that I just need to make a bit of extra time to make sure I touch base with my close friends regularly. Plus it’s perfectly easy to make new friends if I want to, there is so much on offer on the river and all the surrounding areas I just have to dip my toe in and see what I fancy doing!

And then I asked my partner for a hug. Because that was all I needed then, to be able to physically anchor the knowledge that everything was actually more than ok, it was really good and I was just adjusting!

So what do you do to give yourself permission to respect how you feel rather than bury it or even always try to analyse it?

With love




Jo Wilson – life on the river!


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