I've just started reading The World According to Garp by John Irving. This little passage occurs in the first chapter of the book, as we learn about the character, Jenny Fields, the strong and independent mother of protagonist, T.S. Garp.
As much as I'd like to say that I've been strong and independent like Jenny Fields all my life, I've frequently been hesitant and uncertain, like the character trying to figure out if it was ok for her to come out of mourning. For most of my life, the question of how I feel was never one that I even thought was important to ask.
Some years ago when I entered therapy for the first time and explained about a specific problem to my therapist, I was asked: "So Jenny, how do you feel about that?" I was stumped. I responded back, "How do I feel??!! Why would anyone want to know about how I feel, least of all me?!"
When my problem became acutely painful, I asked my therapist with tears rolling down my face, "How do I get over my sorrow?" And he said "You do exactly what you're doing ... which is allowing yourself to really feel what you really feel."
Part of me thought "What will others think?" Another part of me thought "Aren't I wasting time, indulging in my worst self, by allowing myself to wallow like this?"
What I learned in therapy and what I keep learning outside of therapy is that really feeling what I really feel is another way of being really honest, without being preoccupied with what others think about how I feel.
And incredibly, the more honestly I feel, the more honestly I move forward to whatever next feeling is ready to land in my psyche. That is, when I let myself honestly feel sad, I find I let content come in when it's truly ready to replace sad. Honest timing. No phony wallowing. No dishonest exaggerations of exuberance. No badgering the feelings of others. Just really feeling what I really feel.