Little Ball of Yarn
You don’t really have to be paying much attention to yourself to know when something bothers you. As social creatures who have complex lives spreading across various domains (work-you, friend-you, home-you, family-you, lover-you, partner-you, social-gathering-you, etc.), situations arise all the time that generate feelings within us. People and circumstances can make us angry, sad, jealous, pissed off, and feeling those feelings is inevitable.
But what does it feel like?
I was recently asked to describe what a particular feeling I was experiencing physically felt like in my body. Where did it choose to set up shop and camp out while making me feel all twisty and turny inside? Also, what did it look like?
On a piece of paper, I drew a gingerbread-man-looking-excuse-for-a-human. I stared at it for a few moments, contemplating where exactly the feeling nested within me. When pen made contact with paper, I started drawing one continuous line that tightly looped and squiggled over itself, under itself, and through itself, located in the centre of the gingerbread man’s chest. The loops and squiggles were so tightly knitted together that there appeared to be almost no spaces between them. It looked like a dense and tangled little ball of yarn.
I was kind of shook by how dark and ominous this feeling looked once I had translated it from mind to paper. The person I was with asked me what that feeling represented. “It’s a fear of not being good enough,” I responded. They smiled kindly and said something to the effect of, “that’s a thought, not a feeling.”
Sometimes we assume the feelings we feel are the thoughts that are behind them.
Sure, there are physical feelings that are generated from the thought, such as a tight chest or what feels like a hollow pit of doom (what my little ball of yarn drawing tried to depict), but they’re separate from the thought itself. What I didn’t realize until that moment was that much of the work I was doing to soothe myself (journalling, talking with my support team) were actually geared toward remedying the symptoms (the feelings) and not the issue itself (the thought that I’m not good enough).
To combat the thought - the issue - I was instructed to come up with opposites of that thought. In other words, I had to write down factual evidence that I was good enough. And this list wasn’t to include moments when people told me “you’re good enough,” but rather, instances that I could pin point as proof that I was good enough - such as completing a task that was important to me. What I found was that the ‘enough’ list outweighed the ‘not enough’ list but that I was hyper-focused on the negatives. And when asked what it was like to complete this list, I found that it actually felt like I was slowly loosening up the ball of yarn in my chest.
Thoughts are just that, thoughts.
It can be challenging to feel all the feels and think all the thoughts when it seems like there’s no way of telling what’s what. However, there is a root cause to the feelings we feel in our bodies. I found that once I was able to identify and label my physical feeling (little ball of dense dark twisty yarn in my chest), I was able to separate it from the thought that caused it. Once I got to this point, I could actually start to focus attention on challenging the thought itself, which in effect relieved the physical symptoms. The homework comes with doing this each time the ball of yarn starts to bound tightly together again (as well as doing the same process for other thought/feeling combinations in my mind and body). Now, I’m not particularly crafty, but I definitely see value in learning how to untangle the yarn and knit something safe and cozy.