My student, Abigail, grew up with parents who had terrible fights. She’s determined not to repeat that in her own marriage. But it’s hard because she doesn’t know what to do with the rage and sadness she feels when her husband criticizes her.

When Abigail first acknowledged her feelings, she put her hand on her heart. She said to the feelings, “I know you are there.” And nothing happened. The feelings were as strong as ever. And — of course — her husband was still speaking to her in the same way.

So Abigail tried saying to the feelings inside, “I really acknowledge HOW HARD this is for you.” When Abigail did this, something interesting happened. Words rose up in her to express how she felt. AND she felt empowered to say them.

“Remember, I’m the one who loves you. I don’t like to be spoken to that way.”

Talk about strong loving empowerment. So different from her mother screaming at her father. Or staying silent and taking the criticisms. And those words came because she faced her rage and sadness. She allowed those feelings to be there but didn’t get carried away by them.

Abigail told me she felt so full of self-love at that moment. That’s what turned everything around. Earlier, when her husband criticized her, it undermined her self-worth. Now, because she treated herself so kindly, the words that emerged were both loving and strong.

People don’t change overnight and neither did her husband. But here’s what really touches me. In a way, it doesn’t matter what he does, because Abigail changed. She told me, “Every time I say this to my husband, a bigger space opens in me and I feel even more self-love.”

That’s the gift. And it’s the answer to the either-or myth that you EITHER acknowledge your feelings OR you take action. For Abigail, acknowledging her feelings — and how hard it was — led to her taking empowered, loving action.

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