Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Stop Thinking, Start Feeling: Take Your Hurts to Your Heart

If you’ve studied the human brain as much as I have, you know exactly what is going on when you hit a patch of acute anxiety. You realize that the amygdala (fear center) of your brain has duct-taped the other, more rational parts of your head, like the prefrontal cortex, and it’s performing a Riverdance somewhere in the gray matter.

You do your very best at rescuing the higher lobes, and try with all your might to wrestle the amygdala to the ground, holding it in a half nelson until you can think straight again.


But this whole process actually makes the struggle worse. You try and try to apply logic and reason and locate the exact irrational fears that have you breathing shallowly, but the more you try to pinpoint them, the more frustrated you become. You can identify the weak links of your recovery—like not exercising for five days, eating like crap, and inconsistent sleep patterns—but this does little to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety you feel at the present.

Does any of this sound familiar?

This was yesterday’s primary activity: trying to outsmart my thoughts in order to regain peace of mind. And then I picked up Henri Nouwen’s book, “The Inner Voice of Love,” the only material I can really read when I’ve reached this point, and this is what he says:


The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your hurts to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down into your heart. Then you can live them through and discover that they will not destroy you. Your heart is greater than your wounds.

Understanding your wounds can only be healing when that understanding is put at the service of your heart. Going to your heart with your wounds is not easy; it demands letting go of many questions. You want to know: “Why was I wounded? When? How? By whom?” You believe that the answers to these questions will bring relief. But at best they only offer you a little distance from your pain. You have to let go of the need to stay in control of your pain and trust in the healing power of your heart. There your hurts can find a safe place to be received, and once they have been received, they lose their power to inflict damage and become fruitful soil for new life.


You have to let go of the need to stay in control of your pain.

That, I think, was my problem and is my problem so much of the time. I am petrified of devolving to the pathetic place I was when I was hospitalized. So every time I hit a bump I panic, and want to think myself back to perfect shape as soon as humanly possible. However, that approach backfires. Both spiritually, as Nouwen explains. But also physiologically, as many studies have shown that, while in a state of severe rumination, trying to control the ruminations is actually going to further activate the amygdala—causing even more ruminations and anxiety.

It’s better to simply feel the pain and to allow yourself to cry, to scream at God or whoever you want (preferably not your husband or kids), and to sit for a second or two with the frustration.


I tried that yesterday, after I read Nouwen’s words. I closed the book and cried for fifteen minutes in total frustration. Sure enough, I did experience far less anxiety, even a touch of sanity, than had I tried to figure out why my neural circuits had just blown a fuse.

I am with Nouwen on this one. We need to trust more in the healing power of our hearts.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lena

    I understand your ‘panic’ I too live in fears of the depression spiral…often I find myself in fear of ‘feeling too good’ as well. This may sound strange, however the better I realize I should and can feel the more I fear the decline from the grip of depression. Working through this anxiety I have discovered there is a difference between ‘habit spiral’ and ‘true depression spiral.’ HABIT spiral I can do something about, depression spiral I will likely need some support or help.

    The tool for this part of my walk comes from the book “My Mind is Not Always My Friend” by Steven Fogel. He explains the ‘complex’ we create and how to disable it. For several months now I have worked with this tool which is when I become AWARE of the complex(your words would be anxiety) I stop to FEEL, RECOGNIZE, ACKNOWLEDGE, and ACCEPT the complex. UNDERSTAND the complex wants to develop into THOUGHT CONTROL thus turning into EMOTION CONTROL and may turn into DEPRESSION CONTROL. I have learned to do the above then I LET GO and replace the feeling with a better thought through activity or project, put my grand busy mind to positive work. As you said above DO NOT TRY TO IGNORE OR ERASE the feeling or thought FEEL IT however once aware, once you acknowledge it….accept it let it go…just let it go. IF I let go and my body still hurts, heavy, mind spiraling out of control I have been able to see depression knocking on the door, this deserves different attention. If I let go, move on to project or activity, become aware of letting go, feel the freedom, relief, even humor of the awareness…I feel in control of who I am striving and wish to be…the best me I can be.

    This has not been an easy tool to trust, however I also realize that through habit I CREATED this complex over years, thus it deserves the respect of awareness, acknowledgement and patience to release it, let it go…because it has been(continues to be) ME and I will not ignore me…YET I can be a better me…so I work at helping my complex know it doesn’t belong…letting my friend go gently with the work it deserves.

    The delicate line between the signs of ‘complex’ and signs of ‘depression’ are the reward I am finding in working with this tool. I KNOW I HAVE DEPRESSION and I KNOW I HAVE DEVELOPED A COMPLEX, with out this awareness they overlap with disastrous results. BY becoming aware I have a contentment that I am able to see the delicate line more clearly…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Maria

    Wow. Exactly what I need to hear. And exactly the opposite of what I’ve been doing my whole life.

    I’ve spent my life avoiding pain, and developing an addiction to do so. Now that I’m working on recovery, I realize the need to let myself feel… everything. I’m not there yet. But I’ll be keeping these words handy as I inch my way in that direction.

    Thank you, again, for all that you do here.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment shelly

    Thank you Therese for the past two days of quotes/prayers by Henri Nouwen.
    I had 6 days in a row of slipping into depression, followed by fear and anxiety…why is this happening? What can I control? Why do I have to be so disciplined? I got myself so worked up that I ended up going in to talk to my therapist. Then I had a massage. Both women reminded me that I am my own worst critic, I don’t have to be my bipolar diagnosis and to reframe my thinking to speak healing rather than sickness to myself and others.
    It’s good to be reminded of the physical/biological process that happens in the brain too. I do the fight against the pain myself.
    I was so afraid, as I explained to my therapist, of needing to go to the emergency room or crisis center. She reminded me of how far I’d come, all the tools that I know and how I’m a ‘rockstar’ when it comes to self care. Fear paralyzes and creates the anxiety and depression. I am so grateful for your site. It speaks to me right when I need to hear what you are presenting. You are one of the angels in my midst.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shelly

    Thank you! I will continue to refine my own practice of control. I love how the book you have been reading defines the steps. Much like CBT. I will utilize this tool!

  • katy

    man, perfect post that goes right along with my own recent post. thanks for the reminder from Nouwen.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jenn

    I love this post. I’m really trying to work on giving my hurts to my heart, but I’m struggling with it. This may sound silly, but I believe that my heart WANTS to take on my pain, but something in my head is not letting go. I’ve done some guided relaxation/meditation using the tapes of Belleruth Naparstek (which are fantastic, fyi), and they’ve helped, but once I finish listening to the tape, the tension and anxieties come back. Does anyone have any tips?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Cheryl

    THANK YOU! This has helped me relect in another way, I can get aniexty over trust issues, and had an episode a couple of weeks ago, and it explains exactly what I was going through…. reading this has given me a new perspective and will help me cope with my past pain of trust being broken to help renew and keep a new relationship healthy.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mark

    Oh the rumination circle. “I want to be better so I will think about how to get better but I’m so far away from better and now I fell like crap and on and on and on.” How I struggle with it too. The only way out is to be reminded of it. This article helps and I try to remind myself when I can remember. The best way for me to get out of rumination is to just let myself be who I am right now. Is it perfect? No, but that’s okay. I only do what I can right now to improve the best I can.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Cindy

    This is so in line with my recovery — you have to feel it to heal it and Luke 4:18 (KJV) says Jesus came to heal our broken hearts. Thank you, Therese, for all you do to help us along on our journey one day at a time!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Christina W

    I am very guilty of trying to control my pain..I fear…everything..success, failure, living, dying, you name it..I’m afraid of it. Anxiety is my stalker..depression the shadow anxiety casts. I struggle with whether to take medication..or not..I think too much, read too much about..all of this depression/anxiety/ways to get well and I become..paralysied. Whats laughable is really, the more I try to control my thoughts/anxiety/depression the more out of control all of it becomes. It is exhausting wrestling with anxiety everyday. Not tiring..exhausting! The energy depression zaps competes with finding the energy to get better. I try to stay in the fight..but there are days..more than not..I just don’t care. Then, I will recieve a Beyond Blue message or something similar and think “ok, one more try” – and today – is that one more time.
    Thank you again Therese for putting your own self “out there” so those of us “out here” don’t feel so alone in this struggle.

  • http://Tojen MESSAGE TO JEN


    I struggle daily, a work in progress…read my above comment(first on this list) if it seems to of some comfort, go to my blog it is my daily walk with depression, spiritual life, my true bare naked attempt to be the Best Me I can be. I do not have the answers only my own personal experience and struggles. Voices in my head, depression, anxiety, habits, ego, all my yucks are there(I am sure with more to come). I invite you(and others) to SHARE with me on my BLOG…as I learn from others all the time.

    would love to hear from you(and others) to share our journey(s).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lena

    DUH!!! jen….this is LENA(above message to you).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Glen B.

    Instead of thinking it through…feel it through? I have a good mental tool box to cope through life’s conflicts but admit that most of my tools are centered around logical thinking. As a “manly man” kind of guy…this is really thinking outside the box. I will think further on it and maybe consider it when nothing else seems to work.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sean

    Thank you so much!!! Great words! Scary but so true.

  • Byron Stock

    Research at the Institute of HeartMath shows that recalling and feeling positive emotions can facilitate your ability to let go of hurts, pain, and negative emotions. In the book SMART EMOTIONS For Busy Business People the Freeze-Frame technique is explained which accomplishes this.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Serena

    Many people in my life tell me to get over it and there really is no room for thninking and feeling in that. I do think its important to feel in order to process what it is you are going through. I also know that alot of us have people in our lives who simply think we can snap out of it. If I had an on and off switch for depression I would certainly turn it off forever.
    Thank you for allowing us to know that we can feel what we need to feel.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marc

    Something that sometimes helps me is to try to view the pain inside me from outside–in my case that image is often childlike. A therapist once asked me to do this–to talk to that person as I would to friend/loved one. I found this very powerful at the time and often helpful since. This might seem like it is using the head, but actually the real value in the process is seeing myself with a sort of compassion. Not the kind that says “everything will be alright,” but one that’s more like a gentle witness. We contain, as Whitman and modern neuro-science teaches us–multitudes and trying to add a voice that is capable of compassion for our wounded self, can help. Not all the time, but some of the time–another tool in the box.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Danielle

    No matter how far we’ve come with mental illness, the stigma is still attached to it… I considered writing a false name to this post. Just cos… Oh my gosh, what if somebody I know recognizes that it’s ME who wrote on here. But with heart palpitating and moist hands, I posted my real name. This is my first post. Battling depression and anxiety since 93 although I have lived with anxiety my whole life. Where would I begin to tell my story… You know. The therapies. The meds. The psych wards. More therapy. The cutting. Meds. The suicide attempts. More therapy. The hurting my family over and over again because of it all. The guilt. And wondering why it just can’t go away. I will admit it is much better… the depression. Haven’t had a serious episode in almost two years. But the anxiety is what is eating me up right now. Thank you for your post today. I found your book at the library while browsing for stuff to help remind me I have all the tools I need to get through the rough spots and that is how I came to know about your blog. I find it very enlighting. Another tool for me to use and a great one at that! :)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Robyn

    Thank You for this post, Therese! You are right we must feel our feelings to help us get through and/or over the hurt inside.

  • Alice

    I have spent my life feeling all of my feelings……as a Highly Sensitive Personality type…..I wouldn’t know how to ignore them is where I put my “soul”—Sanctuary of the Soul (poems of anguish, healing, hope, comfort and celebration) endorsed to my amazement by Elie Wiesel, Wayne Dyer, Nikki Giovanni, Drs. Alice Miller,, Larry Dossey, Ellen Langer, Oriah, etc…..I am so humbled by these people. if anyone wuld like to write to me. i am also the modertator of an abused survivors’ group.

    I believe we are here to make a difference… in….has anyone’s life been made lighter/easier because they met you?

    Kindest Regards, Alice

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Patricia

    Letting myself feel is a struggle for me. Who wants to be around a depressed person? I have to keep on my game face: strong and positive. I allow myself 15 minutes every day to truly feel whatever emotion. Since I swim every day, I allow myself to cry for the first 15 minutes during my warm up. There is something about crying while in a pool swimming, no one notices the tears rolling down my face or filling up my goggles.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Serena

    I felt the same way about maybe putting a false name to the posts. But I changed my mind because I realized I can’t hide away from thisn illness all the time and facing up to it is part of being able to deal with it. I am actually finding that as I get older I have more trouble facing the stigma associated with mental illness. One of the most difficult things I had to do was bring a group of nursing students to the mental health facility where I had been a patient several times over years ago. The best part was I had a key this time to the different wards so I could come and go freely. The experience did give me a few flashbacks and I had a few demons to face. But I was honest with my employer and I think that really helped my situation.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment barb

    i know God has blessed me through my depression, PTSD, and anxiety by guiding me to the right doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist. i stay on a very nice dose of meds and look forward to what i can do for anyone else each day. this is my mantra– i found this poem when i was 16 and live it each day:
    “I shall pass this way but once,
    therefore any good that i can do
    or any kindness that i can show, let
    me show it now. Let me not defer it
    or neglect it, for i shall not pass
    this way again.” author forgotten.

    being on the right meds has allowed me to let God use me when He needs me, and i don’t believe in coincidence or luck. i believe in God and miracles.

    i pray all you can be as blessed as I.

    thanks Therese, you are in my prayers always.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anthony

    What if it isn’t my thoughts but my heart? I have been a different person now for almost six months. I never sleep in fact I would always get a good five if I was lucky six. Now I wake up every hour or hour/half. Now yeah some times i have dreams or I guess they could be thought like, I miss You or I say prayer, Watch over her. Normal I’m sue. I wish I didn’t like her, then hey I would have already moved on like she has I guess? I’m just saying Thank you good advise I will try and keep a conscious effort and make sure I am living my wounds instead of thinking about them.

    I guess what I’m saying is for me it is more physical then mental? What should I do?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bonnie

    This was very good! Haven’t read the book yet, but sounds like something I would like. Makes alot of sense. Thanks BG

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Liti

    SO very helpful for OCD.Thank you,Liti

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lori

    You amaze me as always. I so wish the support group on here was more prevalent. I love how you can still write when you are depressed. I haven’t been able to write or do anything creative in years.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Woo Du-An

    Lovely and Oh So True. Tp paraphrase Pema Chodron: “It’s not the thoughts that are the problem. It’s how we stick to them that that’s the problem.” Love your work Teresa. It’s helped me and helped me help others.

    I have a related article in the Huff Post.

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild ...

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate ...

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from ...

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a ...

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer ...

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.