Josh Killam, LPC
A "How To" Connect With Your Feelings
I have recently written about what it looks like to focus on or attend to your feelings. Focusing is kin to recognizing what you feel you need or deserve from yourself or others. This is a nuanced idea because so much of what you discover intrinsically is dependent on a limitless number of factors. For example, self-worth, how you were raised, your relationship with your parents, your intimate relationship, or your place in society, to name a few. This process of self-discovery is continual and expansive. I wrote about a simple technique that you can use; sit undistracted for 3 minutes and invite your emotions to the surface. So that you can begin to interact with them. This exercise is intended to help you understand that developing an emotional awareness such as this is even an option. Like me, many of us have not really known that this is even an option; sometimes, knowing can be enough. Developing emotional awareness is the equivalent of walking up to a door and knocking. When you sit and invite what is inside you to come to the surface, you knock and ask your internal psyche to come up. This can be complex in its own right, so let's explore a bit further.
There are many things to consider when attempting emotional awareness. First, how have you treated yourself in the past? How do you typically talk to yourself? Are you kind and compassionate, or are you demanding and rigid? Imagine if someone walked up to your house, knocked on your door, and started screaming at you to come outside. How would that feel? Like most of us, you would probably move into a fight/flight response and fall back into some sort of protective state. Where nothing vulnerable comes up, all your defenses are up, and you are ready to fight to defend yourself. This is how our internal self responds when we treat ourselves this way. Most of us have an inner critic (which I will write about more in the future). When we allow this critic to be the focal point of our internal self-talk, we respond accordingly.
If you are anything like me, you will sit down, take a deep breath, and set a positive intention to invite your feelings to the surface. 1 minute passes, nothing. Next thing you know, you are tapping your foot, waiting (better yet, demanding) for something profound to happen. Then comes the critical thoughts, "why can't I do this? what is wrong with me?" Most likely, what will happen next is that any vulnerable part of you that might need attention will throw up its defenses and run and hide. It seems obvious to say that this is not the aim of this exercise, quite the opposite. Negative self-talk can lead to emotions such as feelings of hopelessness, shame, and failure. All of which end up working against your initial intent to create a compassionate relationship with yourself.
When we are approached slowly and gently, our feelings, needs, and desires will come to the surface and be met with compassion. It takes time. It takes work. Most meaningful things in life are worth the effort, right? You will have to work for it, and YOU ARE WORTH IT. Let's suppose you do not know what it is like to be treated as deserving of value and attention. In that case, you will struggle to understand how to treat yourself in this way. We do not inherently know how to love ourselves; we need to learn how to do this or be shown how. If you feel that this describes you, I want to say to you, it is most likely not your fault that you were not taught how to love yourself in this way (a good example of positive self-talk). Saying something like this to yourself could be a way you start off your 3 minutes. With that said, I want to add that just because you are not at fault for your lack of growth in this area does not mean that you are not responsible for where you are now. But don't stress. Learning to attend to your needs is an essential step in taking responsibility for yourself.
So when learning, keep in mind that you are new to this and do not be too demanding. Offer time and space for yourself. Picture your inner child; imagine a little you sitting on a park bench alone, with a downhearted look. How would you approach little you? Find that felt sense, a feeling of safety and comfort, and use it to approach and sit with your feelings. If you attend to your feelings in this way, they will more often than not come up to greet you. Once you understand what you are feeling, you can better understand what you need from life. From that need, you can then begin to map out where and how to get it.
Be gentle and go slow. Your internal self does not respond well to criticism or demands. Take a deep breath and invite an image of compassion into your mind. You deserve to feel loved by You. I want to add that it can be profoundly healing to experience love from another relationship first. If you feel incapable of loving yourself or struggle with accepting feelings for yourself. Using a safe and vulnerable connection to practice can be a wonderful modeling experience of learning to treat ourselves.