What Does It Even Mean to Feel Your Feelings?
One of my favorite therapy phrases is "feel your feelings."
I sit with lots of feelings-stuffers that have a hard time even naming what emotions they are sitting with, let alone know what to do with them after they have been identified.
"Seriously, Brooke. You've told me that 100 times, but - what am I supposed to do next?"
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash
So here is my overview of how I walk through this with clients, so that this isn't just something that is said, but something that you can actually do.
1. Notice them.
Feelings 101 is the knowledge that feelings are most often physical sensations. So take a step back and notice when an emotion comes up for you.
For those that struggle to even recognize and identify emotions, I often suggest "feelings check-ins" every few hours for a few days to get started.
This could consist of literally setting an alarm and taking a moment to be present (we call this mindfulness) repeatedly in the midst of your day.
The alarm goes off, and then:
How am I feeling right now?
Where am I holding tension?
What physical sensations can I feel?
What thoughts are present?
Where did they come from?
Have I felt this before?
Is this the same or different than the last time I checked in with myself?
What has changed?
2. Get curious.
Once you have identified the emotions that you're currently holding, take some time to think through that emotion.
Often, we make judgements about ourselves because we have feelings. Instead of judging your emotion, try to determine what it is telling you.
Anger often tells us that a boundary has been crossed that we need to address, or we feel blocked in some way.
Anxiety and fear are emotions that are meant to keep us safe, but can also show up to tell us that there are things happening in our life that we need to stop and address before we proceed or choose a path.
Happiness and contentment can tell us that our basic needs are currently being met.
Obviously, there are a myriad of emotions and they can all tell us different things, but those are just some very basic examples.
Emotions that feel "bad" to us can often alert us that somehow a wound is being reopened or touched, and that can allow us to take extra time to think through where that wound is, and how we can approach situations in our life with extra care and tenderness.
3. Dig in.
From this point you can look at the story that you are telling yourself about both your emotions and yourselves.
Who are the villains in the story, and who are the heroes? What do you know about those characterizations and the real people behind them? What assumptions are being made in this story?
Determine what you need and how you can care for yourself and your emotion.
Does a conversation need to happen with someone? Do you need to set a new boundary? What would you tell your best friend if they experienced this?
Generally speaking, once we have practice at these skills, we have more control over our emotions. Emotions retreat when we greet them, once we have addressed and learned from them, so pushing them away and avoiding dealing with them - as most of us are taught - is usually why they stick around so long.
Therapy helps for when we need space to walk through a bigger or more complicated emotion that we are struggling to learn or move forward from, or when this process seems so foreign that you don't even know where to start.
It can help to have support through these explorations, especially when our initial impulse is to run and hide.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. You can read more about her here.