Many of us find strong feelings arising from within us, feelings that make us feel ashamed. It may be a deep anger, or even hatred, towards a parent, a former friend, God, or ourselves.. It may be a fear of failure or of an uncertain future. We may be shocked and stunned by powerful lusts or compulsions. Or perhaps we are secretly consumed with guilt, because of things we've done, or that have been done to us.
Often we are tempted to deny and hide these unsolicited feelings, even from ourselves. We think that admitting such negative feelings would make us bad people, so we try to distance ourselves from them. Sometimes we try to bury our pain with alcohol, sex, food, work, etc.
But feelings which spontaneously arise from deep within us are not morally good or bad; they do not make us good or bad. We are not responsible for what we spontaneously feel; we are only responsible for what we do with these feelings.
Feelings are echoes rising from the depths of our souls. They offer an honest reading of our inner selves. Oftentimes intense feelings are rooted in, and receive their energy from, important, though perhaps "forgotten," past experiences.
To deny our feelings is to deny an important part of ourselves, to cut ourselves off from our roots. These are our feelings, and we need to acknowledge and own them. God speaks to us through our feelings. God reveals our personal truth to us, the truth that frees us (Jn 8:32) to grow into our best selves.
Facing unpleasant feelings can be painful, sometimes seemingly overwhelming. But denying or hiding leaves these feelings festering within, poisoning our lives. When we repress negatives feelings, we give them power. We need to deal with what we feel if we are going to heal.
We can never win out over our feelings. Eventually they are going to surface in our lives. The only question is whether we will have the courage to let them surface in a healthy way, or will default and allow them to surface destructively. If we were to cover the mouth of an erupting volcano, its raging lava would only spew out from the sides of the volcano. In like manner, if we try to suppress our anger towards, for example, our father, we may find ourselves erupting with inappropriate anger at a roommate or a friend.
I am not responsible for how I spontaneously feel, but I am responsible for what I do with my feelings. Should I feel a burning resentment towards my father, this does not mean I am a bad person. There are reasons, conscious or unconscious, justified or unjustified, for this resentment. But if I try to bury my resentment, this will leave me feeling depressed, or in some other way sabotage my life, and I bear some responsibility for that. And if, on the other hand, I deliberately feed this resentment, and even end up striking my father, I am responsible for nurturing my negative feelings, and for hitting my father.
Hopefully I will opt, instead, to deal with my resentment by exploring and evaluating the reasons behind my feelings. In this way I can learn what my resentment has to teach me about myself, and about my father. This is the path that leads to growth and happiness.
We all need to find healthy ways to discharge our negative energy. One good way is to get up the courage to talk about our painful feelings with a trusted friend, a chaplain or other professional. The more vile or embarrassing the feelings we have locked up inside us may seem, the more relief and healing we receive from talking with a wise listener.
Feelings that appear to be monstrous, often lose much of their power once they are faced. The tale is told of a woman who saw a monstrous shadow filling up the whole wall in front of her. The horrible figure was so frightening that it took all of her courage to finally turn and face the monster. When she did so, she saw that what was casting this forbidding shadow was a tiny mouse standing in front of a candle. Not exactly pleasant, but certainly not a life-threatening monster.
The best people I know are not those who seem to be enjoying carefree lives. The people I admire most, and that attract me most, are those who are courageously facing the "monsters" within, dealing with their painful feelings and personal issues. These are the people who have a depth of beauty, a wisdom for living meaningful lives, a sensitivity and compassion, not found in others. These are the kind of people we are all called upon to be, not caught up in superficialities, but rather struggling to let God bring out the best in us, supporting one another on the great journey of life.
Ron Stanley, O.P.