Why wallowing might have a role in healthier living

If you’re anything like me, you get messages every day telling you to be positive, find your gratitude, fake it ’til you make it, and use affirmations, affirmations, affirmations. I’ll be honest, I have done all of those things. I’m a big fan of gratitude. I am, by nature, quite positive. And I like affirmations. However, I think that there is something that we’ve often been afraid to face and honestly address.

In all of our efforts to improve, to be happier, healthier, better versions of ourselves, have we neglected the important process of honoring our feelings? Even the ones that we think aren’t so pretty?

I have a dear friend who recently discussed with me the issue of self-pity. Do you know what she decided she would do? Wallow.

Hold on now. Really? Isn’t that terribly self-indulgent? Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that giving in to negativity and narcissistic, shallow behavior? Isn’t that a waste of time and energy? Isn’t that just attracting more negativity? The short answer is no. And here’s why. (This is the longer answer now.)

Suffering is a natural part of the human experience. We have become afraid of suffering. We don’t like to see it, acknowledge it, or feel it for the most part. But if we are honest, we all have suffering. It’s part of the lived human experience. It means we are alive. It means we are not machines. It means… we are real.

“Whether you like it or not, you are committed to the human endeavor. I cannot ally myself with such a purely negative goal as avoidance of suffering. Suffering is a chance you take by the fact of being alive.” –  William S. Burroughs, Letters to Allen Ginsberg, 1953-1957

So back to wallowing. I am not suggesting that you rant and vent all over social media, that you whine and complain and make your friends want to stab themselves in the ears with pencils to make.it.stop. I am not suggesting the spread of negativity. I am not suggesting that you berate yourself with negative self-talk. In fact, I strongly discourage that! What I am suggesting – and this is not a radical notion – is that you feel your feelings. Feel them! Under the convenient label “self-pity” are emotions with which you can get real. Let them move through you. Let your heart and body process emotions. It doesn’t have to be rational.

You can allow your intellect to inform your emotions but not deny them.

“But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.” – Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid

When you deny yourself the opportunity to feel your feelings, whether it’s because you’re scared of them, afraid of what others will think, concerned about your image, or trying to stay “positive” no matter the cost, you create blocks in your system. The flow has been stopped. It impacts all sorts of physiological functions. Stress increases. Cortisol levels rise. High cortisol levels make blood sugar balance nearly impossible. High cortisol and blood sugar imbalances affect sleep, mood, weight, neurological processes, etc. And these outcomes create their own kind of suffering that we are once again given the opportunity to address – or not. It can be a vicious cycle.

So you think it’s a good idea to feel your feelings. Really feel them. Not stuff them, try to run from them (which is impossible since they’re yours), or berate them for their mere existence. How do you do it without tumbling down the rabbit hole? You start with love and acceptance. It is okay that you feel whatever it is that you feel. Anger, sadness, jealousy, frustration, envy, the pain of loss, regret. I don’t want you to pretend you don’t. I want you to feel it. Get in there. Roll around in that shit. Get filthy. Because sometimes things do feel awfully disgustingly sucky. And just when you think you can’t get any dirtier, you can roll around some more. Look at the muck all over you. Notice. Feel. Be present.

Now here’s the most important part: Love yourself through the process.

Each step you’re taking here, each wiggle and squirm in the muck, every move is an act of self love, honoring the truth of your feelings. No matter how filthy it gets. Don’t worry; if you really own this process, you won’t want to stay dirty forever. If you do this from a place of love, you will find that at some point (often sooner than you’d think) you’re ready to crawl out of the muck, clean yourself off, and let all that darkness be washed away. It’s your choice. It’s always your choice. You’re emotions aren’t taking over. You’re processing them.

As you climb out of the Great Pit of Wallow, don’t feel like you have to make the shift immediately to Super Chipper Chipperton. Unless it’s genuine. Be honest. All you need to do is allow yourself to turn to something that feels a little better. Doesn’t need to be Best. Better will do just fine right now. From there you can choose something that feels a little better again. And again. And little by little, step by step, your positive feelings grow. Not because you denied anything or tried to cover anything up, swept it under the rug, or put on a happy face(mask), but because it’s how you really feel.

I believe that you can have the life you truly want. I do! With every cell of my being I believe it. I don’t believe that you or I can have it by denying, stuffing, or ignoring our emotions. Learn to work with them. Learn to let them flow THROUGH you. Learn from them. Acknowledge and honor them for the teachers that they are. And give yourself permission – as needed – to wallow. Do it with love. Do it with intention. Feel your feelings.

You are not weak because you acknowledge your own suffering. You are wise and strong, courageous and real. [Tweetable] This is life. By processing emotions – light and dark – we learn and grow. We learn about our own strengths and weaknesses, we develop greater compassion, and we deepen our connection to life.

Here’s to feeling our feelings, and to massive, Giganotasaurus Carolina sized self-love.

2 comments… add one
  • A'ala Jan 18, 2014, 6:14 pm

    Great post! So true! Reminds me of Rumi’s Guest House:

    THE GUEST HOUSE

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

    — Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

    • Amy Jan 18, 2014, 6:26 pm

      A’ala, YES! Thank you so much for that.

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