Written by Bianca Sprague
feelings first, action after: the true formula for self-care
I have been thinking a lot about pleasure. True, light, fun, & amazing pleasure. It feels like this experience of feeling joy and goodness is always just out of reach…something that we try to prescribe in our days with various activities or through experiences with assumed predictive emotional outcomes. We frequently direct people around us to participate in this hunt for happiness with flawed assumptions about how they can support us. We feel that if they do this, it will make me feel that. We do this in our personal and professional lives.
Or, it is something that we just give up on and accept our lives are dark and sad and heavy.
Let’s pause here and define pleasure.
Joy, happiness, white light, bubbles in your body, giggles, calm and satisfied, fulfillment, pride, thrill. These capture the various words and feelings associated with what I am talking about. It may be a colour or smell or sound for you. It may mean the sun or fresh snow. It may be loud and high energy or soft and calm and serene. Whatever it is, it feels so darn good. We typically talk about it and attach it to sex in North America. But here, I am talking about pleasure in all the buckets. Pleasure felt within you. For you.
This year I felt very consistent pleasure. Like, a lot. I felt like I had solved some riddle and it baffled me. It was also one of the years of my life that held a collection of the saddest experiences I have ever endured. It has left me really looking at this concept. Like, face-in-the-shit looking at it and I have had so many ‘eureka’ moments through this exploration. I have had a lot of tears. And many, many bad dreams filled with harm to me by folks who I was directed to trust and who were thieves of joy and love. These same people did this shit in real life, so it was not much of a stretch to be processing in my dreams too.
a case study that would be confusing as hell
I felt like this last 12-ish months would be a good case study as it seemed confusing and it violated all social rules and assumptions for ‘what would make someone feel good’ at first glance. Many of the items, accolades and experiences that were expected to bring me ‘good feelings’ were taken, lost, or given up. And at the same time, mountains of experiences that would be assumed to be connected to ‘bad feelings’ were present everywhere.
Yet, when I was in bed running through my day and having my in-your-head-chatter-time, I could not help but notice how overall better I felt. I felt light, free, pure ease. Don’t get me wrong, I was also sad. But acute sad. I knew why I was sad. I did not have that feeling of unidentifiable unease that we try to fill with food, shopping, sex, drinking, drugs, TV, social media and more to cope.
How could this be?
what we’ve been taught about pleasure is bullshit
When we look at pleasure it is bewildering how many of the experiences that we believe SHOULD bring us closer to this seemingly elusive feeling are actually not providers of joy. We have been taught what to connect to pleasure. Society (read The Patriarchy – ugh) has made a list of access points to happiness. Some of these include:
- Getting to your goal weight
- Getting partnered – and obviously having this lead to marriage
- Having a baby or many babies (because even more can bring even more pleasure, right?!)
- Buying a home or other large purchases
- Holidays with family, especially having them go over without a hitch – is this even possible?
- Events that function as life-rafts in our calendar such as your 1 ‘girls night out’ every 6 months
- Getting that degree
- Making a certain salary
- And so, so, so many more…
You get the idea…
when reality doesn’t meet expectation
We hold these as the sources of pleasure and pray that we will feel the feelings we hope they will bring. The formula looks something like this:
When this happens (fill in the blank with whatever you are telling yourself), I will feel happy/safe/free/joy/content/pleasure.
These events rarely fulfill the feeling-goals put upon them. And worse yet, the wider the gap between your expectation and the reality can actually cause the range of actual feelings like sadness to deep despair, hopelessness and depression. There is something more insidious happening here. Spoiler alert: It is all rooted in the patriarchy. Isn’t it always…
Here is what is actually happening.
Our patriarchal society needs us to continue to operate within the systems it has designed. These include, and are not limited to, the family system, the medical system, the education system, the justice system, the economy and overall product and service consumption by capitalism. This priming from the patriarchy has been strategically placed everywhere. I mean, everywhere.
Why? Well, the patriarchy has an interest in us continuing to feed the machine. They want us to feel driven to get married and so they promise it will be the ultimate goal of feeling fulfilled. Then you have babies, and fast. Everyone asks ‘when are babies coming?’ as soon as you are married. We are told that your family and purpose as a woman will be achieved once you know the true joy of children. What they fail to tell us is that yes, we love our children AND the work of motherhood and free labour is actually what you do all day. The economy survives on our free labour. Then you buy a house, and keep striving to get promotions and buy, buy, buy the whole way along.
this starts young
By our early 20s, in countries in North America and Western Europe (as well as some others due to the influence of colonizing countries and capitalism), folks have made a life plan around their ‘goals’ and have actively started executing the plans around the above mentioned list.
There are two major flaws in this.
major flaw #1 in the system
First, we cannot ever predict how something is going to make someone feel. Ever. Worse yet, if we hold beliefs as social truths that feelings are right or appropriate with certain experiences and we feel something different, we believe that it is something wrong with us.
Here are a couple examples… you feel relief over your miscarriage because you realize you really did not want to have that baby for a million reasons and that feels like a very wrong feeling so you bottle that up as shame. Another one, you don’t feel as excited as you thought you would buying that house/car/bag and now you think you will never be happy AND you are out the money and have a challenge to your basic need of financial security. This list goes on and on.
major flaw #2 in the system
The second major flaw in this is that while you are so focused on that goal and the feeling that you are promised from your event/experience, you miss all the real time feelings that are happening for you. Those are true. That is present living. And those deserve the attention and care to experience them.
Your body needs to move through real time joy, sadness, anger, shame, disappointment, and anything else you are feeling. This is how you will stand in your power and feel stable and secure. This is how you will tell the truth to yourself and make the appropriate changes to your life to find joy regardless of what your circumstances are.
our unexpressed feelings are making us sick
You will do more of the things that bring you real time ‘good feelings’ and tweak the things that bring feelings you would like less of. The feelings that are uncomfortable, like rage and anger, will be expressed at the targeted causes and will be much smaller events. This will also stop feelings from mutating into physical ailments, which real talk, is what happens to folks who identify as women. Our unexpressed and mostly confusingly incongruent feelings are making us sick.
This hit me so hard half way through my year from hell. Literally, there was not an area of my life that was not on agonizing fire. Messy breakup, loss of friends from the breakup, heartbreaking rejection of me and my daughter from my family of origin, I was in the middle of a social media cancellation with my work, I had just moved away and did not know anyone where I lived, and a massive financial impact from all of it. Oh ya, and we were in a wave of new lockdowns from the pandemic. Dumpster fire bad.
my major epiphany in my bathroom
What happened that felt so profound? Well, I was washing my hands in my bathroom. The window was open and the breeze was that perfect temperature was flowing in. I was slowly imprinting on my new home, which was really lovely compared to my previous one. My house felt clean and was the way I wanted it as I was new to living alone after a very long term relationship. The soap I was using was made by a local gal that I like, so it felt infused with love and just the right amount of citrus. I was fed and watered. I was free. And I felt a wave of giggle joy. It just washed over me. It did not make sense. It caught me off guard. I let myself feel it. It was the first anchoring experience that goodness is everywhere even in a dumpster fire.
I am usually the person rolling my eyes at this sort of thing
I lean towards pessimism. Like my whole darn life. So, I know when I heard of these things before I would roll my eyes. It felt like something I have to practice and that I would have to change to experience this joy everywhere. Yet, even with my refusal to accept optimism, this feeling crept in organically. While I was doing something so simple as washing my hands. What the fuck??
I heard this as a little message. Like, Bianca, you don’t have to change, this will be a natural experience, there is nothing you need to DO. So, I stayed curious. And then it happened again. And again. And I started to notice a pattern. There was no real rhyme or reason to it. As in, feelings are nuanced and the internal and external interference is massive. I also felt less negative. I started leaning towards good. I didn’t have to stop not liking something, I just didn’t even look over at things I didn’t like.
seeking feelings rather than actions
When I started seeking feelings rather than actions, I felt open to new experiences. I was rewarded with incredible returns. I fell in love. I made incredible new friends. I started new hobbies. I stopped doing things that I could put down. I started asking for help and feeling ok about it. My work became so much easier. I slept better. The hungry ghost that I always felt went quiet. I got honest about who I was. I forgave myself for the choices I made in my life that hurt me. I was honest about why I thought those things matter. I saw how much the patriarchy influenced my life I’m such insidious ways.
It had made me close to unfuckable with.
letting myself be
When I am not sure what to do at a fork in the road, I really listen to what I feel. And I don’t judge it. Just feel it. This was important to me because then I didn’t have to change. I got to work with how I really am. Particular. Excitable. Highly sensitive. Introverted. Weird. Passionate. Silly. Easily feels shame. Needs to be comfortable physically. All of it.
I set my goals based on feelings now, which is a game changer. I know I feel amazing when I have money in the bank. I know I have to feel safe at home. I want fun. I need to do the work I do and make a difference in the world – which can be done in lots of ways – and it has to make me feel like I’m making a difference and fighting the patriarchy. I need recharge time to be quiet and get centred and allow my brain to hyperfocus on activities like jigsaw puzzles. I need lots of it.
So, when I set my goals I keep these things front of mind. I don’t always know what I need to do, but I know it cannot violate my tenants. I will not sacrifice myself, and how I feel, for something that I know will not have the feeling that I’m needing or seeking. This sounds obvious and social pressure is strong.
this isn’t just for me, it’s for all of us
Feeling hot + brave? Test this. Keep a notepad going where you did something because it was supposed to make you feel a certain way. Did it? How did you feel? We’re you surprised? Find an activity that you are pretty clear about the feeling it will evoke. Don’t judge it! I could be playing alone with Lego, or sorting your undies, reading a comic, going to Costco only for samples, or doing something you used to like and forgot about. Literally anything! How did you feel? We’re there external pressures? Did the activities surprise you?
This is a way we can take our power back. How we can decide what we want to do for joy. How we can throw our middle fingers to the patriarchy and design our own road maps. How we can find joy in all the places it shows up everyday. Joy that we can access without having to change.
you are not broken
You are perfect. How things make you feel is normal, even if they’re not expected. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel robbed over the many false promises that have been made to you over your life.
This will make us strong.
This will give us the choice to write our own story and make our own map. This doesn’t mean it needs to be subversive. It can look ‘regular’. The difference is you chose it for how it made you actually feel rather than what you were told you would feel about it.
You are not broken. You were programmed to believe so many untrue things. This has probably left you with a deep unease and distrust. You can easily take back your power. I promise.
Your new mantra: feelings first, actions after.
Did this resonate with you? Are you able to access in your life? What do you do for pleasure? What is something that brings you joy and how often do you do it? Feel free to share in the comments, or reach out directly to Bianca at firstname.lastname@example.org
feelings first, action after: the true formula for self-care
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