You are ready to re-awaken “lost” feelings. Congratulations on opening yourself up to new or forgotten territory. Why is it important anyway, you ask. Your feelings are connected to the most intimate parts of who you are. We come to know ourselves through our emotional experiences in life. Your feelings are deeply personal and if you try to bury, ignore or judge them, you inevitably cut off a large piece of yourself. You become a walking head through life. No body and no authentic feelings. Feelings give us information about ourselves, the world, and others. They have purpose and gifts to offer. Sensing and thinking can take us only so far in life. Our emotional system provides “gut feelings” about things which help guide us. Feelings are internal signals. They motivate us for action. They inform us. They add a depth to our well-being that cognition alone cannot do. Different feelings serve different functions.
If you have been disconnected from your feelings in whatever way, do not judge yourself. Simply acknowledge with compassion that you are ready now and invite the learning in with enthusiasm (fear may be there…ah, it very well will be there, but don’t allow it to be in the driver’s seat). You owe it to get to know yourself in this profound way.
The first step is to increase capacity to tolerate feelings but before we do that we must have language to put to our experience. We do this by learning the vocabulary of feelings. (for the purpose of this article I will use the words emotions & feelings interchangeably despite the slight differences). There are many lists of feeling words available which you can reference. I advise to keep it simple as you begin and then expand your vocabulary as you become more familiar and comfortable. The “core emotions”: Fear, anger, grief, joy, excitement, disgust and sexual excitement are a good place to begin (Hendel).
It can be frightening to initially feel pain which has been avoided no matter how long it has been buried. You may feel drained and depleted after allowing the painful feelings to arise. This is normal. The body is attempting to make its way to homeostasis. It is a wise idea identify the “easier” feelings for you to be with, those that are more difficult and those you avoid entirely. Start with noticing the easier ones as they arise day to day- no need to dive into the deep end without knowing how to swim, right? You might look for an act of kindness during your day (maybe you notice that someone holds the door for a stranger at the store). You build your capacity by staying present with the feelings and sensations inside. Try to not get caught up in any story about the feeling(s). Merely notice and observe. Soak in the delight of the positive (easier) feeling and notice where in your body you feel it. Allow the goodness to be there and be present to it. Simply notice without judging it as good or bad. That’s all. Give it attention and acknowledgment.
A therapist can be helpful when you are ready to feel the more challenging and painful feelings and understand the information that the feelings hold. After practice and more resiliency, you may begin to notice an internal shift. The next magical thing that happens is relief and aliveness. A re-connection to oneself, to life and others. Now, I’m not pretending that this is quick (it may be, but the experience is different for everyone). However, the “end” result is you waking up. Waking up to your true self, to all of you- MIND, BODY, SPIRIT. Yes, it is powerful! Allow the exhaustion to wash over you, knowing you are better for it. Remember, recognizing brings you out of denial. When we deny, we block freedom. This leads to suffering.
I can’t talk about feelings without talking about sensations. As a somatic therapist, I am biased towards sensations as they are the gateway towards releasing blocks of energy which keep us stuck in unhelpful patterns. Think about the cycle of anxiety. We feel fearful of some uncertainty in life. This causes sweating, tightness in chest, knot in stomach, racing thoughts, etc. We feel these uncomfortable sensations and feelings and enter into a hypervigilant state, which adds more discomfort and anxiety (a loop is formed). Next time you feel tightness in your chest, you might panic and this leads to “what if…” which leads to more tightness and anxiety. Now a pattern has been established. And wait, the pleasant sensations get ignored because of this. That’s no fun!
The vocabulary of sensations comes so easy to kids and for us adults, we are too quick to discredit their importance. Sensation words such as furry, tight, silky, contracted, buzzy, flushed, open, and prickly offer wealth of information just as feelings do. They are equally important on this journey towards greater well-being. When we learn to stay with the sensations and feelings, we notice they change, they flow, dissipate or expand. As we learn to track our internal state and subsequent impulses, we grow our emotional intelligence also.
There is a clear link between emotional numbing and depression. Moreover, adults who grew up in abusive families learn not to talk, trust or feel. Emotionally neglectful families impart the message to the child that a big part of who they are (how they feel) is unimportant. It can be helpful to identify the beliefs you have around feelings, such as it means you are weak, or that they are not that important, or it’s really hard and scary. Feelings that are not validated and responded to with kindness and support can result in dissociation from feelings as an adult. Or at the very least one’s identity is unfamiliar or even distorted. Simply put, it was learned that feelings don’t matter and there is no room for them in life. Disconnecting from oneself becomes an adaptation to a harsh upbringing. This can be reversed in adulthood and that’s the exciting news.
Of course, feelings can run our lives, if left unchecked. There is a difference between having emotions and being overwhelmed by them. Enter…..“Practicing mindfulness of feelings”. Mindfulness is THE starting point to increase awareness of bodily sensations and feelings AND how they flow and change. The practice also includes developing an attitude of openness and acceptance, with self-compassion at the core. My hope is that in the therapy process, clients begin to feel empowered by the process of identifying, experiencing, owning, and accepting their feelings….and shedding defenses. Through coping skills and resiliency, you can learn to inwardly bow to your experience. In the words of Jack Kornfield “Wisdom knows that feelings are present without being lost in them”.
Have fun exploring your inner world!