As we look to change our world (inner and outer), a first step is cultivating the safe space to feel. Feelings are signals from the spirit of truth at the base of our being that carry important messages. Our feelings are also energetic motivators and often we are not fully aware of how feelings are fueling our actions. We may know what we think caused the feeling, but the feelings can be so tangled and repressed that we are not fully sure what to do with what we are feeling so we react from a conditioned place inside of ourselves.
SAFE offers an alternative. It also offers the space to simply feel what we feel – good or bad, pretty or ugly, soft or intense. We need this space so we can learn from what we are feeling and bring about any changes our feelings are asking for within and without. When we do not feel safe with what we feel, or experiencing it fully, we end up resisting it in our body which can lead to repression or more intense explosions.
Choosing not to act on an angry impulse and to feel the pain that lies beneath is a very courageous thing to do. — Gary Zukav
SAFE is a very essential first step, and as we embrace this step, the rest will become apparent and the ripple of our willingness to feel fully and safely will definitely shift everything (even if slowly, but surely). Test this to see how it may be true for you. If you have experienced trauma, please proceed slowly and gently, and get support if needed.
So what do I mean by SAFE?
S – Stop and notice. Regardless of what you are feeling – whether it is something simple in the moment like the joy of your child’s smile or something more intense like rage that she is again doing that thing you most dislike – stop outwardly acting on the feeling (talking/touching/grabbing/spanking/yelling/whatever) and notice what is going on in your mind and body. If you feel inclined to touch someone forcefully, bring your hands (and/or feet) close to your own body. I will say the important part again: stop and notice what is going on within your own mind and body. We can do this, and we are the only ones who can.
What thoughts are present? How does your body feel? Where in your body do you feel what you feel? Notice your breath and bring your attention deeply into your breath as you gradually feel the inside of your body from head to toe. It can help to practice this when you are not feeling intensely so you have a base to work from.
A – Acknowledge and accept. Welcome the feeling as a friend you have trusted your whole life. If you have never trusted anyone, this is an exercise in learning to trust yourself. You can transition how you feel what you feel.
Acknowledge how you feel from the inside, with the same gentle attention you bring to notice your breath and body. So this goes deeply into how you are not only thinking, but feeling in your body. In your own words, silently or out loud, say to the feeling in your body something like I hear you. It’s safe to feel what I am feeling. It is safe for others to feel what they are feeling. I am cultivating the safe space to feel while not acting harshly on any feelings I have – from anger to lust and beyond.
As you accept and acknowledge, begin to notice what message the feeling is bringing forth. If what you are feeling doesn’t feel so good this may look like many thoughts about what you do not like or want or even how awful you are. Allow your focus to transition to what you do want. What do you want instead? How do you want to think and feel about yourself and this situation? Later, you can reflect on these messages and bring about more of what you want in your life.
F – Feel fully, without taking action. As you address the mental and physical aspects of what you are feeling, feel it fully in your body with your inner attention. Bring your attention to the action of breathing as you deeply feel how it feels to breathe. Notice how your breath goes to every cell in your body, and the rhythm of inhale-exhale-slight space in between. Allow the focus of your attention on your breath to touch and free the emotion you feel from the inside. Notice the space around and inside of what you feel.
It’s energy so it might feel like a wave, a knot, an intensity, a pleasure. Whatever, allow it to cycle through you as if you are the ocean and it is a wave or ripple in the current of you. You may cry, want to shout, squeeze your muscles, feel inclined to harm, or something else. Allow yourself to feel fully without verbally or physically acting on those feelings other than to open your mouth and breathe deeply and fully as tears roll or sounds come from within.
Bring your attention deeply within and allow yourself to feel what you feel, safely.
Stay with this and notice what happens. You do not roll away with the wave, it does not crash on you. You are the wave, you are the ocean. You are the awareness of what you are feeling. You are the space around the story, around the feeling. Your attention to the space of breath that is continually cycling through your body allows you to feel fully as you acknowledge all components of what you feel so you can listen to and heed the message, bringing about powerful change for yourself – and the world.
One moment at a time.
E – Exit if necessary and express when helpful. You may be wondering how you can do any of the above if you don’t feel safe or comfortable feeling what you feel while not acting on it as you usually would. At first you may feel very resistant to feeling what you feel or it may intensify as you bring attention to it. This is okay.
If you need space to feel fully or be safe while you feel (not harm yourself or another), get that space. Leave the room, have a sit down, find a friend who can provide that space, exit the conversation, and/or get some other help. This is your responsibility to yourself and others and you can do this.
If you feel like you’re ready and it is helpful to express how you are feeling and/or what you are needing in the situation, start by owning your emotional experience with “I” messages such as “I feel angry and I need some space so I’m leaving the room for a little while”. It can initially feel difficult to communicate meaningfully when feeling strong emotion, which is why it’s important to make sure you are both ready and it is actually helpful to express. Learning effective communication skills takes time and practice. Be gentle with yourself along the way.
This is not about perfection. It is about willingness, determination, and action. If you forget to feel safely, don’t give up – keep practicing. It will become second nature eventually.
Now, go change the world… from within.
SAFE is part of Navigating Emotions for Parents — an ebook collection of exercises to help parents meet emotions in new ways.
If you are experiencing anger more often than you’d like or find the intensity to be hindering your relationship with your child and/or others around you, here are some additional resources that may help…
- Diffusing Parent Anger – A Raw Letter From Me to You
- 25 Things I Can Do When I Feel Angry
- Sane Parenting Challenge
Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.