When a client tells me or shows me they are overwhelmed, what they are describing is an intense experience. For them, moving past the point where they are experiencing themselves as having the capacity to cope with what is happening or has happened is just awful. Often there are events beyond the person's control, and they feel as if they are struggling to stay afloat amidst wave after wave of feeling, of changing circumstances, of thoughts, of body sensations. Beyond full up, they are overflowing and in need of containment and stability.
This is one way of being full, and in this mode there is no more space, no capacity to either take more, or to give. It is a state in some ways closed off from the rhythm of life and from relationship. Like so many people I know my versions of this kind of fullness, and it is not a way of being I hope to experience again any time soon.
This, thankfully, is not the only way of experiencing fullness. I also hear a contrasting take on it in my work. Another kind of full is when a person feels satisfied, content, in touch. This fullness is one where you can be full to overflowing, able to expand and contract, to give and to take. It is a fullness that notices the nuances of life, that has capacity to be filled up with the little things that bring pleasure and wonder. This too is an experience I know my way of experiencing, its one I welcome when it is present.
So why reflect on this theme? I wanted to offer the contrast to remind both myself and you of the flux and change of feelings. I wanted to be with the complexity and nuance of experience, the way it is continually changing. The word emotion means 'energy in motion.' It's root is the latin word emovere, which translates as to move out, remove or agitate. Emotions release energy, they let it move on and out, freeing us from the pain once we hear the message they bring. Emotions are revealed not only in our internal experience, but also in our behaviour, our gestures, our voice, our facial expression.
There will be times of overwhelm, it is a very human experience and it touches us all. It will not last forever, it can't, nothing can. Having moved from overwhelmed to overflowing, back and forth, I know the hope to be found in noticing that my capacity is expandable, the relief of noticing when overwhelm begins to recede, and the joy of being aware that I am content and in balance, full to overflowing. These two are not opposites or the only ways even to be full, they are just two experiences from the kaleidoscope of human ways of being.
Wherever you are emotionally, hold it lightly, knowing it will change. Whether you want it to, or not!