If You Feel Like a Mess, It’s Working

I get emails from clients like the sample below pretty much every week:

Agh! I think something is terribly wrong with me! Oh no! I am crying a lot! I feel terrible! What should I do? I can’t live like this! What if I’m never happy again!

To which I usually reply something like this:

Yay! Soooo glad you are crying and feeling your emotions! Don’t worry – this won’t last forever. It’s what we’ve been hoping to accomplish. Remember when you said you wanted to stop stuffing your emotions and actually feel them? Well, this is the beginning!

I have gained a reputation for being the coach who makes you cry. In a good way. In an “I can finally let down and let this emotion flow” kind of way. I joke about this crying coach thing with my clients, who thus far have not thrown tomatoes or eggs at me, or toilet papered my house. This may be because most of them live far, far away from Wyoming. Thankfully.

Once they get through the initial panic over actually feeling these darn emotions, however, they report feeling much, much better. Emotionally, physically, and mentally. Storing all that emotional stuff in one’s body really doesn’t feel great, takes a lot of energy, and leads to physical pain. You’ve gotta remember the reason you embarked on this mind-body healing journey, whether it was to relieve pain around issues like vulvodynia or interstitial cystitis or gain confidence and quiet the self-doubts and inner critic. You wanted to feel better. You wanted to actually let yourself have emotions. You wanted to connect to your soul wisdom, even if you didn’t know it in so many words.

Well, the first step is to actually feel those emotions you’ve unwittingly stored away. Conceptually, this sounds great. In reality, it’s very unnerving, at first. This is because you’ve spent years NOT feeling them. Trust me – as a champion emotion avoider, I have so been there. The reason we don’t want to feel these things is they are sooooooooo uncomfortable. (Along with other reasons, such as feeling vulnerable and “weak” if we let them flow.)

Like many, many things in life, when you start this process, you have to make it through the rough patch where things seem worse before they get better. In physical healing, this is often called the “healing crisis.” In the mind-body process, I just call it The Mess. It generally involves a lot of Kleenex tissue, reassuring one’s spouse that this is not an emergency, and a cave-like place to which you can retreat and blubber. A lot.  (My spouse has mentioned that spouses need a blog post on what to do with mates who are going through the mess. He too, speaks from personal experience. Possibly I’ll write that one next…)

The only reason this seems so awful, for most of us, is the panic and fear that arises from the inner part of us that thinks these emotions are not to be felt. They are to be avoided! Stuffed away! “Run now!” shouts this inner suppressor inside us. “The tears are coming! Noooooooo!”

This is what we call resistance. Resistance to feeling these emotions is normal. It’s just part of the process. You might feel it in spades or feel it just a little, but it is likely to show up nearly every time you start to really feel an emotion, especially at first. Just acknowledge this resistance, reassure it (you can talk to it like it’s your friend) that you are okay and that you will go gently into the emotion swamp.

If you can stay slightly in the role of observing yourself feel (this feels like you’re watching yourself in a movie), even as you are crying (or throwing things at your poor, unsuspecting spouse), you’ll find that the swamp is just that. It’s only knee-high. You won’t drown, you won’t feel overwhelmed, and you will make it to the other side.

Once you’ve started letting yourself feel emotions and have integrated that into your daily life, they’ll be like just a blip on the screen. Just a normal, simple, passing part of your daily existence. You’ll become a pro. You might still feel some resistance every now and then, and you won’t do everything perfectly, but you’ll feel much more at peace with emotions, and you’ll feel much more relaxed and energetic in your body. If you were in pain, it will fade away. You’ll start to feel like you know yourself. You’ll start to feel like you like yourself. And dare I say, even love yourself! You’ll find yourself having fewer bouts of self-doubt, and when those do arise, you’ll see them from a slightly detached place instead of getting totally knocked flat and immobilized.

I write all of this simply to say this: stick with it. You can do it. It doesn’t feel this hard forever. If you can get over the hump and through the muddiest part of the swamp, you’ll get back onto dry ground. It’s much easier to just keep going forward, through the discomfort, through the resistance (not forcefully – just with a steadfast willingness to go forward) than to start and then stop, over and over again. That tends to feel horrific, like you are never going to make it out of the swamp.  Martha Beck, my mentor and the original reason I became a coach, calls this process going through the ring of fire. This is an apt analogy, because it does burn hot. If you move forward, however, you don’t catch fire. You end up in what she calls the Core of Peace. Ahhhh. If you start and stop repeatedly, you end up just standing in the fire, burning. Gack. I’ve done it, and I don’t recommend it.

Keep feeling. Be willing to be a mess. Be willing to have a melt-down, even if it’s not in your schedule. (Because really, have you scheduled your melt-down time? Is it listed in your calendar between the haircut and picking the kids up from school? Didn’t think so!) Emotions are not logical, not linear, not organized. They affront our intellect with their very kindergarten-style way of doing things – so haphazard, so random, so…undisciplined. Yet, they return us to our own bodies, our own soul wisdom, and, ultimately, peace.

Embrace the mess. This too shall pass. You can do it. Stock up on Kleenex. Celebrate this sign that the mind-body process is working. Know that most people have no idea how to navigate emotions, so they may not understand what you’re doing. Reassure them that it’s okay, and don’t bother worrying about what they think. You are on the path to healing, and you will most definitely arrive. Just keep going forward, through the swamp, through the fire, and remember to breathe. You will not only survive – you will thrive.

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17 Responses to If You Feel Like a Mess, It’s Working

  1. stvance June 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    you caught me feeling too tired to soldier on today; this blog is perfect!
    thanks for saving me thru cyberspace; tough job, but somebody has to do it!
    love n.

  2. Donna June 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Perfect timing as always. I am certainly there today – I’ve cried off and on all day and keep hearing you in the background going “yeah”. It’s getting easier and easier to just let the tears flow – maybe I’m learning to welcome my resistance. To all of you out there going through this process – know you aren’t alone and it does getting easier. Thanks Abigail

    • Abigail June 30, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks for encouraging everyone, Donna! It truly does get easier. 🙂 And sooo much better to just feel than to hold things in!

  3. Bridgette Boudreau June 30, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    What’s your address again? I have some TP and a plane ticket. 😉


  4. Abigail June 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    AGGGH! Noooo! I refuse to give you my address! 🙂

  5. Janette June 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm #


    I took a couple of steps towards the swamp and then got sidetracked with study, jobseeking, writing, making deadlines…. um….. napping, blogging, reading …. um …. napping, cooking, cleaning …. um … napping …

    Go me! Successfully NOT crossing the mess in case I get my feet wet. LOL!

    Thank you Abigail – fabulous way to remind me that quite possibly I’m NOT yet “cured” – and that READING ABOUT healing is not the same as DOING IT.

    Mess, here I come *takes off shoes and socks ready for wading* xxx

  6. Abigail June 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    Janette, this is FANTASTIC! I love it! The funny thing is, the minute you’re in the water, you’re “cured,” because you start to know who you are in a BIG new way. I’m so excited for you! Besides, it’s summer. Doesn’t the water feel great on your bare feet? 🙂

  7. Alice July 1, 2011 at 8:06 am #


    I want to thank you for all the times I’ve needed some reassurance and you have been there, guiding us through. I have been well and truly in the mess for a little while now. In actual fact I truly believe I am coming out the other side. Today however, I still struggled with resisting the emotions, as they weren’t on my schedule (how do you know we all think like this) I didn’t want to own them and boy did it feel loads worse not to own them.
    So thank you again for gently guiding us all

    • Abigail July 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

      You’re so welcome, Alice! I know you think like that, because I do! 🙂 Plus, I get to know my clients pretty well…:-)

  8. Loving Husband Dave July 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    My wife showed me this, and I have to say this helps me understand what’s going on too. Also, I’d like to ad that she seems more “emotional” but she also seems less irritated (cranky). Does that sound right?

    Anyway, thanks.

    • Abigail July 5, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

      Yep, that’s about right! 🙂

      • Paige March 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

        I know this is an old post but I just found it. Thank you for writing it. I was at the gym this morning smiling, laughing, enjoying my music by the time I got home and off to work I had cried twice and now I am fine. Wow what an awesome thing. I don’t think I have ever felt my emotions as they have come up. It is amazing how fast they can flow through when you do. I have a very high shame feeling in my personality and that is the only one so far that is hard for me to feel but I am trying. Thanks again Abigail for this great work. I love it


  9. Gina August 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! This was exactly what I needed to read right now. <3


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