Don’t Forget to Feel the Feelings (NOT think about them!)
By Ms. Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist
In the last few months we have been shining the spotlight on various feelings that people experience, from shame to love as well as gratitude and anger. Everyone on the planet has a large emotional spectrum, if we can pay attention and tune in to it.
Tuning into feelings is difficult, especially if you have been raised in an environment where feelings were not talked about and a ‘feelings language’ was not developed. Often people who are starting the journey of ‘feeling the feelings’ have a limited range of feelings they can articulate; for instance, happiness, sadness and anger. Other feelings like grief, loss, contentment, joy, serenity, hopelessness, frustration, resentment, elation, depression, anxiety, worry, fear, shame, jealousy, envy, empathy, hope (and the list goes on) remain nameless and stay stuck within that individual. In the July 2014 HUM newsletter a list of feelings was provided that you can return to again and again as a way to develop this language. Tools such as this are also available online as a starting point for increasing your feelings language.
Another barrier to feeling the feelings is that many people spend time thinking about their feelings but not feeling them. Many people confuse these two experiences and believe they are one and the same: that we have to think about our feelings in order to experience them and ‘make sense’ of them. In reality, however, thinking about our feelings can create a barrier to experiencing them. For instance, someone has had a fight with their spouse and is experiencing feelings of frustration, shame, guilt, regret, remorse, irritability, disappointment and rejection. If they begin thinking about their feelings this often takes them to a place of ‘why do I feel this way?’ They then relive the conversation: what happened, what was said, what was not said, what they could have done differently, who was right, who was wrong, and so forth. All of this analysis, directly or indirectly, often leads to the conclusion that ‘I should not feel these feelings because _________’ (of all the rationalizations you just thought about). Thus, intellectualization of feelings is another avenue to avoidance, escape, and numbing that are barriers to health.
This is the reason that it is so important to stop, ask yourself ‘how am I feeling?’ and allow the feelings to come without getting caught in ‘why do I feel this way.’ Sometimes it will not be clear where feelings are coming from but they are still legitimate and important to experience. The next time you find yourself asking ‘why am I feeling this way?’ stop and focus on the feeling so that you do not intellectualize your way out of them.
We hope you have enjoyed the last few months of focusing on specific feelings and encourage you to continue on your feelings journey through journalling, talking to others, group therapy, 12 Step meetings and any other avenues you have found helpful for expressing feelings. Keep on feelin’ on!