Metabolizing Difficult Emotions

If you’re currently isolated at home, it’s likely—despite potentially being busier and more drained than ever—that you’ve had recurring nagging thoughts telling you to come out on the other side of this with an unexpected hobby. Or flaunting washboard abs and a new dedication to Pilates. Or speaking a new language while tending to Marie Kondo’d closets, a thriving herb garden, and perfectly softened cuticles.

Glennon Doyle, the New York Times–bestselling author of Untamed and a noted source of general wisdom and reason, is here to tell you: It’s okay to stop. To not chase productivity. To lower your expectations for yourself.

The most worthwhile thing you can do for your future self right now, she says, is to simply feel. It sounds easy, but it is painful and difficult. These are painful and difficult times, and being human is already inherently painful and difficult. Which is why most of us avoid feeling everything at all costs—usually, and now especially.

On this video call, GP asks Doyle: How do we metabolize our most difficult emotions? The answer is different for everyone, but we’ve collected the advice from Doyle that resonated most.

Feelings may come up that we’ve never had to confront before.
“First of all, there’s all the actual pain and loss and grief that’s going on in the world,” Doyle says. “This whole time reminds me of what early sobriety was like for me. I feel like we are all like these snow globes, and we keep ourselves shaken up all the time. I used to have a snow globe when I was little, and I thought it was so terrifying because there was this red scary dragon in the middle. But I liked to play with it, so I would keep it shaken up and then just like let the snow settle, and I’d see the dragon again. I think that’s what’s happening right now: We are so used to keeping ourselves shaken up with distractions and business and outer drama. And now it’s like a great settling. We’re left with what’s always been true: That we’re incredibly vulnerable; we have control over nothing; at the end of the day, all that matters is the people we love.”

We’re all feeling a collective grief.
“I can’t imagine what we’re here to do [on earth] other than keep becoming more true and beautiful versions of ourselves,” says Doyle. “And I think that everything we need to become the version of ourselves we’re supposed to be next is inside the pain of now. We will become during this time. We’re in a kind of collective grief, and grief is a cocoon. It breaks us and changes us—and we don’t even know how we’re being changed right now. We won’t know until the after. But I think that’s why so many people are so tired and they don’t know why. Grief takes all of you.”

All feelings are for feeling.
“Allowing yourself to feel all the feelings is terribly hard. That’s why so few people do it,” she says. “But the thing is that all feelings are for feeling. Even the hard ones. And the only thing that’s worse than feeling it all is missing it all.”

Anger can give us direction.
“I really believe that every negative emotion we have has a meaning. That’s why I think it’s such a shame that we have been taught to deny and numb and do all those things with them. Because: They’re all instructive. What pisses us off is an arrow pointing us toward what we are supposed to change in the world,” says Doyle. “As women, we’re taught that when we feel angry, we should feel ashamed of that—that when we’re angry, it means that there’s something wrong with us. But actually it just means that there’s something out there that’s wrong that we should change.”

It’s okay to be devastated.
“There are things in life—we’re taught to skip over things, to numb it, to not let things to break your heart, don’t feel it, it’s fine, keep going—that are devastating and enraging enough that it’s okay to let it take us out of the game for a little while,” she says. “And maybe that’s part of the metabolizing, because I think a lot of those feelings become the fuel we use later to get our work done.”

For more of Doyle’s wisdom, listen to her conversation with Elise on The goop Podcast.

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