I was recently asked, “what do I do with the feelings that come up?” When I heard this, I thought, damn, that is such a great question. I have been writing a lot about attending to feelings and making space for those feelings to come to light. I had not considered writing about what to do with them when you found them. It is important to reiterate that the first step is to make space for your feelings so that you can begin to interact with them. In contrast, we want to move away from the “I’m fine, or I’m good.” That almost numb experience that we have when we are moving too fast, living on impulse from moment to moment. Making space for your feelings can mean that you can feel whatever is going inside your body. Whether it is fear, sadness, loss, hopelessness, or joy. All of these emotions can be experienced and worked with. Something to keep in mind, and I wrote more in-depth about this in an earlier blog, but we need to feel safe interacting with our feelings. So take your time and do not rush; you will feel when you are ready. How? Your emotional experiences will tell you in a wave of emotion often accompanied by tears and visceral bodily experiences. So again, go slow and take what your body will give you.
Assuming that you are in a secure place and your feelings have invited you to the dance, what then? What comes next is listening to what they have to say. Giving them a voice, so to speak. Emotions are stored in our bodies. Our bodies do not have the language to put our feelings into words; this is what our minds are for. This is a big reason why knowing how we feel can be so hard! A lack of language in our body is often why we think or say, “I don’t know how or what I am feeling.” Not having the words to articulate our emotions can be an overwhelming experience in itself. It is essential to be in a safe state to effectively navigate this process (more on how to feel safe). Start with simple descriptive words with your focus on the center of your body, i.e., your throat, chest, stomach, or groin. Gently describe in words as best you can what physical sensations might be there. Some examples include tightness, rigidness, hot, fluttery, dull, damp, and still (this list is not exhaustive). It is crucial to keep in mind to approach these physical sensations with a judgment-free mindset. Work to be open and understanding rather than trying to “figure them out”. Simple descriptive words can be an easy intro into discovering how your emotions feel and giving them judgment-free language. Suppose we start with trying to identify emotions like overwhelmed, accepted, frustrated, or disappointed. In that case, we can quickly get stuck in our head trying to determine if “that feels true or not.” Which leads us to a problem-solving approach rather than “being with” our feelings. First, simply focus on describing how things feel in your body and see where this takes you.
It is important to note that this can lead to highly cathartic experiences and often overwhelming experiences if done right. If you have a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma, I would recommend seeking a therapist to help guide you through this process. A vulnerable or therapeutic relationship could be considered a step in the direction of creating a safe, secure experience in which to focus on your feelings.
Next comes listening to their story. There is an idea in psychotherapy that we live out our implicit emotional beliefs (unconscious beliefs about ourselves and life) through stories that we act out in our lives. The critical factor is being motivated to act out a story we are unaware of. To simplify, we can consider these implicit beliefs as those things we do or say that we wish we didn’t do or say. The things about ourselves that we do not necessarily like. For example, have you ever thought to yourself, “why am I in the situation that I am? How could I let this happen? What happened to me? I don’t know how I ended up doing what I did?” These situations can all have emotional impulses (implicit beliefs) tied to them. By focusing on our feelings, we can integrate these beliefs into our conscious awareness. Which leads to a better understanding of ourselves and a more meaningful directed life.
Ok, back to listening to the story your emotions have to tell. The idea is to learn to dialogue with your feelings. A discussion via writing or talking will help you understand your feelings, leading to a deeper understanding of yourself. I recommend journaling because we are not very good at doing all of this in our mind. Honestly, we suck at thinking, so writing out the narrative is more effective (this is why talk therapy is beneficial). Use the descriptive words that you uncover to begin your story. Once you have written a few words and found a focus on the physical sensations in your body, next ask yourself, “what does this tightness in my chest need/want to say?” Then with genuine openness, sit and listen—journal what comes up. Talk about what comes up. Be as descriptive as you can with what is coming up. I invite you to not be judgmental, put aside any expectations around what you are writing or whether determining whether it is wrong or right. We are not looking for right or wrong, good or bad. We are looking for what you need. Now write your story—all of it. Whatever comes, write it down.
Reminder, if you have not done something like this before, it’s ok to not be very good at it, so don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have made it this far from where I am sitting, you deserve and hug and appreciation because this work is challenging. Lastly, go slow, do not be demanding. Practice accepting that whatever you accomplish IS ENOUGH. Set an intention to come back to it. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
You are deserving of this work. You are worthy of the love and attention this type of work takes.
I will write about what to do with these stories once you have them written down in another blog. The focus will be listening to your feelings so that you can identify your needs.