Unbearable feelings can be described as the feeling you will do anything to avoid. The mark that was left on your heart long ago by a person, fear or incident and now when something brushes against it, it can make feel sick to your stomach.
I (Laura) have had a few of these experiences over the past couple of weeks and they always seem to be centered around letting people down, or messing up and not being able to fix it. When relaying these stories, some friends shared in my shame, while others had a much higher tolerance and instead shared different hurts - and I realised how varied the buttons are that provoke deep-set reactions when pushed.
They can be difficult to pinpoint, especially since we spend a lot of time avoiding them. Some reactions to an unbearable feeling can be a loss of rationality, shutting down, a big rush of anger or a loss of ability to communicate. Knowing what your buttons are, and where the hurt stems from can empower you address it in future. Seeing the feeling for what it is, simply a feeling, speaking to the childhood wound and saying that it is okay, that they are okay, and having others speak truth over you are ways to disempower and heal the sharp edges around the feelings so they are no longer quite as unbearable.
So to shed some light on these, and in the spirit of showing our wobbly bits, we asked some people to share with us what they perceive their ‘unbearable feeling’ to be, and how it makes them feel.
I structure my life to avoid feeling rejection. When it comes time to share something creative I’ve done, go on another date with someone I might like, or tell someone how I really feel, I’m struck with apathy- suddenly I give up or don’t care anymore. I reject before others get a chance to reject me and I often don’t even realise I’m doing it.
Being trapped. I’ve left relationships, jobs, flats and events because I hate the feeling of this might be ‘it’, the way things are. If things don’t meet my fantastical expectations or I don’t have the freedom to be a free-spirit then I freak the f*ck out. I panic and quickly leave whatever it is I feel trapped, or stuck in my disappointment, by. The older I get though the more I sit with those feelings of panic until they pass and I can think logically again and decipher what’s really going on underneath the initial trapped feelings. I’ve sat with the feelings more than ever in the last year and am happily engaged of recent because I decided my situation and future won’t be dictated by reactionary feelings anymore. Feelings aren’t always truth. Sometimes they’re just the past hanging around trying to threaten your future.
The only times I remember really feeling sick to my stomach is when my mum, dad or one of my siblings is struggling with something, something that they need to work through themselves, that I can’t help them with. To me, this is unbearable. When they hurt I hurt and I want to fix it but I can’t. I feel useless and it consumes me. I just want them to be ok but I have to sit and wait and just be there, doing nothing… trusting. I ache and cry, pray and plead, finding anything that I can do, clutching on to anything that might give some hope in the situation.
My unbearable feeling is having other people thinking I’m a terrible person. This is a disaster as I am a journalist and literally everyone thinks journalists are terrible people. Thus I live in a constant puddle of self-loathing and depression.
My unbearable feeling is the feeling of insignificance. That nothing that I do or have done matters. That people would be fine and get on with life without me. That I am somehow disposable or superfluous and that my life will amount to nothing. It feels really dramatic when spelled out like this, but when I experience anything that seems to confirm this belief, I go into a tailspin. I start to plan ways to feel important or special and I start view the world as one in which I am often forgotten and at times an inconvenience.
When this feeling presents itself to me, I have to make some pretty deliberate decisions about what to give airtime to in my brain. I have to learn to shut all that off and choose to believe that I’m valuable and cared for and important even if I nothing ‘special’ to offer. That I don’t have to strive for significance, but can feel the feeling fully and let it do its thing. The temptation is to always try to alleviate yourself of the feeling, to believe that it has to be avoided at all costs. That to experience this feeling is the worst thing possible. But it is actually just a feeling. And treating it as such is how the work begins.
My unbearable feeling is when I go against a core pillar that I have had my entire life and hold closely. The feeling of knowing I’ve made a mistake and it’s completely out of my control to take back. The anxiety that follows it. The feeling of letting myself or others down by my own selfishness.
I think I have a handful of unbearable feelings, but one of them I have really noticed recently is the feeling of not being known. Not in a success-driven or recognition kind of way, but not feeling like the people around me truly get me or know the depths of who I am. I was recently catching up with a group of friends I used to be inseparable with, and I left feeling so shaken because I realised how little I felt they knew me at all anymore. It wasn't anyone's fault, it happens over time, but I feel really uncomfortable thinking about how much I have inside of me and how little of it some of my friends get.
This hits me really hard when I'm talking to my mum. I feel like I'm trying to share important parts of who I am and she's just not listening or not getting it. I'm like, this lady birthed me and she doesn't even know me sometimes, and when those feelings happen I just feel so lonely and isolated. But then when I do feel deeply known and loved by others it's the best thing.
Displeasing people and being found out as a fraud are the unbearable feelings. That 'imposter syndrome' that our culture calls it, I guess. Like when I have to ask for money for my job. The thought always pops in my mind "am I really worth this or am I a fraud? What if they expect more from me for what they are paying?" This usually means I end up charging less because there is less likely to be that conflict.... you get what you pay for. They can't complain because they paid me zero dollars. Silly exaggeration, but it happens.
I hit rock bottom about a year ago, and honestly, I’m so glad I did. But at the time it was gut-wrenchingly painful - lonely, raw, exposing, and deeply uncomfortable. It was at a time of my life where everything was just going so well, and I was doing the best I’d ever done in my career and relationship, but I was still unbearably sad. I’d avoided my feelings for so long because they hurt too bad, and I hadn’t dealt with issues from years past that were still affecting me, but this time everything came to a head. The juxtaposition of people congratulating me on my milestones, but me feeling so hollow, was the scariest of my life and the most unbearable feeling I've experienced. I can remember the utter panic and sudden hopelessness I felt, that my life would never be good again. It’s the worst pain I’ve felt, but it shocked me out of a depressed state I’d become accustomed to, and for the first time I was willing to fight to get better.