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  • Writer's pictureMental Gear Closet

What does it mean to "feel your feelings"?

Updated: Feb 28

This has been a challenging question to wrap your head around, even for licensed therapists.  As a colleague of mine would say, it is simple but not easy.  However don’t let this deter you.  Here are a few helpful tips to get you started.

Start by stopping

During a recent exercise with a client I noticed a powerful lesson. Only seconds after they allowed their body - and all distractions in the room including me talking - to pause, the underlying emotions they previously couldn't access surfaced almost immediately.

In this moment it became clear that in order to start feeling our feelings we have to first stop doing all the other things that either hide or distract us from them.  This can look like:

  • Stepping away from people or public spaces.

  • Asking yourself, “How is _____ situation affecting me or making me feel?” and then pause to listen to your body’s answer.  It’ll show up as sensation such as crying, tightness, activation, restriction, tingling, etc.

  • Being still sitting in a chair with no phone, music, tv, etc.

  • Closing your eyes.

  • Anger tends to be a secondary emotion that covers up some other emotions that is more raw and vulnerable.  You’ll often find one of these four primary emotions at the root: hurt, sadness, fear, loss. If so, try to tap into the primary emotion you're feeling.

It doesn’t have to make sense

While there is definitely a time and place for thinking, processing and understanding, this moment might not be one of them.  Instead, notice your immediate urge to think about your feelings or the situation (which is NOT the same as feeling your feelings).  If this happens, pause and shift by asking yourself:

“How is the thought/memory of ______ making me feel?”

You’ll be much more able to process once you’ve actually been through both the situation and emotional response.  But if you jump too quickly to thinking about the situation you’ll most likely end up in a memory loop with no end that just triggers the hurt feelings over and over.

Also, know that you don’t have to like the feelings that show up, or even understand them.  Remember, small moments can create surprisingly big feelings.

Thinking fuels the fire.  Feeling puts it out.

One of the most common things I hear clients say is, “Yeah but if I feel my ______ [insert emotion] then it’ll just make it worse.”  I don’t agree and here’s why.

Just because you're experiencing a feeling doesn't mean it's getting worse.  The former indicates that a feeling simply exists while the latter indicates that whatever exists is becoming stronger and more intense.  If you typically ignore or repress feelings then it may surely seem intense and uncomfortable when you start tapping into them, but this is not the same thing as them actually getting worse.

On the other hand, what does make a feeling worse is:

  • Thinking about it over and over.

  • Remembering what happened.

  • Planning repetitively what you want to say.

In summary, feeling our feelings starts with pausing long enough to make space for sensation to show up, and noticing what arises without resistance or clinging.  Need help with this?  Feel free to reach out or find a local therapist in your state.

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