How to Feel Your Feelings

How to Feel Your Feelings

“Allow yourself to feel.” 

“All emotions are valid.” 

“Get in touch with your feelings.” 

If you swim in personal growth circles, you’ve probably gotten used to hearing phrases like these. Our culture is becoming more aware that feelings are to be felt — not denied, suppressed, or judged as “right” or “wrong.” This growing awareness is a sign of progress, but most of us still have questions about how exactly we’re supposed to be “feeling our feelings.” 

Many people relate to their emotions with a sense of helplessness, believing they could be swept away by a negative mood state if they allow their feelings to come and go. Others may struggle to access their emotions at all, as well as the reservoir of wisdom they have to offer.

To feel your feelings in a healthy way, you need to be tuned into your emotions. You need to be able to take guidance from your feelings, just like you take guidance from the sensory information coming from your eyes and ears. You also need to develop some emotional intelligence skills so that you can stay regulated and balanced, within yourself and within your relationships.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t receive much help building these skills at crucial points in our development. Many people seek out therapy or emotional intelligence coaching in adulthood to learn how to relate to their emotions in a healthier way. I hope this article helps you think about feeling your feelings in a new light, and gives you some fresh ideas about how you can use your emotional guidance system to create the life you want. 

I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on how to feel your feelings. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

Grow Together

Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

How to Feel Your Feelings: Episode Highlights

Our culture doesn’t place a lot of value on emotional experiences. Instead, we value thought. 

We praise people for not letting emotions “cloud their judgment” in high-stress situations. On the job, we expect people to behave in logical ways, and not to do anything because they’re feeling overwhelmed or hurt or angry. We certainly don’t expect them to cry. Some of us may even consciously reject our own feelings and the feelings of others, and believe we’re wise when we do so. 

But human beings have feelings for a reason. Emotions aren’t like an appendix that you can have excised from your body without noticing much of a difference. In order to make good decisions, be the best version of yourself, and have healthy relationships with others, you need to have a good connection with your emotions.

Why Do You Need to Feel Your Feelings?

Sometimes, not feeling anything seems better than the alternative. But the importance of emotions cannot be overstated. 

Emotions play a huge role in personal growth. It’s when we’re feeling painful feelings that we’re motivated to take action and make big, necessary changes in our lives. Think about how much you’ve learned and grown through your most difficult experiences, like having your heart broken by a terrible breakup, or losing a loved one, or making a big mistake that made you experience regret. As terrible as these experiences are to live through, the “post-traumatic growth” they foster is a real phenomenon that quite literally makes us who we are.

Emotions are also an important source of data that we need access to in order to make good decisions. Feeling queasy or uncomfortable around a new person (for reasons that your logical, “thinking” mind can’t quite articulate) can be the red flag that keeps you safe from danger. A pang of guilt can tell you when your actions don’t match up with your moral code, so you can bring them back into alignment. Feelings of excitement tell you you’re starting down a path that has the potential to be great for you. Without a good connection with your feelings, it’s impossible to pick up on these bits of data and put them to use. 

Feeling your feelings allows you to have accurate empathy for others, which is the foundation of healthy relationships. After all, it’s impossible to be sensitive to other people’s feelings when you’re disconnected from your own. Knowing how you would feel in a given situation allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand them better. 

You also need to feel your feelings because of all the bad things that can happen when you don’t. Suppressed or denied emotions can be the catalyst for serious problems, ranging from addictions, to eating disorders, to anger and aggression (and passive-aggression), to toxic shame and low self-esteem

What Are Feelings?

At their most basic level, feelings are physical sensations in your body that happen in response to a subjective experience. The experience could be internal, such as feeling anxiety when you think about things that could go wrong in the future, or external, such as feeling happiness when you receive good news. 

We say these experiences are subjective because they don’t mean anything in and of themselves. We create meaning out of our experiences when we run them through our internal “filters” — our core beliefs, judgments, and expectations. That’s why it’s possible for different people to feel different emotions about the same experience, like a mass layoff that leaves some people devastated, others feeling elated, and others with mixed emotions. The way you feel will depend on the subjective meaning that you assign to the experience. 

The physical sensations that accompany emotions also vary from person to person and from feeling to feeling. To you, sadness may come with a choking sensation, or an aching in your stomach, for example, while other people feel it elsewhere in their bodies.

It’s also important to understand that your felt responses, thought responses, and behavioral responses all exist in a feedback loop. For example, if you were hiking in the woods and you started worrying about being stalked by a bear, you may feel your stomach lurch and your mind may become more alert. You may start breathing more heavily, walking more quickly, and glancing behind you every few steps. 

Or, you could start by doing these behaviors on their own, and as you did, your thoughts would likely grow more anxious. You might start playing out possible scenarios about bears and serial killers and getting hopelessly lost in the woods. These anxious thoughts would then provoke a physical sensation in your body, which would provoke more anxious behavior, and so on. 

The emotional feedback loop is important to understand, because it reveals how we can have influence over our feelings by managing our thoughts and behaviors.

Why Do We Struggle to Feel Our Feelings?

Unfortunately, many boys are socialized to believe feelings are shameful. To avoid this shame, they may learn to shut their feelings down and actively reject the emotional part of themselves. By the time they become adults, many men have trouble recognizing and identifying their feelings at all. This is a tragedy, and it creates all kinds of pain and trouble for the men who experience it.

Girls, on the other hand, may not be shamed for having feelings, but they may receive the message that these emotions are silly, or dramatic, or unreasonable. They may experience their feelings being invalidated or dismissed. Kids who receive these messages develop the habit of looking outside of themselves to know what is good or important or “right” — in other words, they seek external validation because they’ve learned that what’s happening inside of them is not to be taken seriously. This can lead to people pleasing, low self-esteem, and other issues.

Regardless of your gender, the attitudes about feelings that you grew up around will have a big impact on your relationship to your emotions. If healthy emotional intelligence and empathy for others wasn’t modeled for you as a kid, then you’ll have to learn these skills intentionally as an adult. 

Some kids are made to feel guilty or ashamed of their feelings. For example, a well-meaning parent may tell a child to cheer up or stop crying, because their child’s sadness causes them to feel inadequate or bad about themselves. If this is the normal response the child receives when they’re sad, they learn that their sadness is a problem for other people. They learn to over-regulate and suppress their feelings, and they feel guilty when they can’t. 

Judgment is the Enemy of Feeling Your Feelings

People experience and process emotions in different ways, and no way is right or wrong. 

It’s okay to compartmentalize your feelings about a situation until you’re in a place where you feel enough emotional safety to deal with them. It’s also okay to have a big emotional response in the moment. It’s okay to take a while to know how you feel, or to cry at the drop of a hat, and it’s definitely okay to feel angry sometimes. Shame and judgment are never helpful, especially when it comes to feeling your feelings. 

Rather than judging your emotions, try to accept them with mindful self-compassion. To practice this, you may literally need to say out loud, “I’m feeling [sadness/rage/anxiety/frustration/] right now.” Notice where you feel the feeling in your body, and try to focus on that sensation rather than the “story” you’re telling yourself about what’s causing the feeling. Rather than thinking about everything that could go wrong on an upcoming trip, for example, you could focus on the physical sensations of anxiety in your body. This mindful acceptance of a feeling is what allows it to pass through you. When you try to fight a feeling, or judge yourself for having it, it tends to stick around. 

Getting Separation from Your Feelings

Feeling your feelings does not mean becoming your feelings. You can feel angry, for example, but that doesn’t mean you have to let that feeling take you over or drive you to do something destructive. It’s healthy to recognize and accept how you feel, while also making intentional choices about how you want to act, regardless of your feelings. 

But we all struggle with this from time to time, especially when we’re trying to suppress or deny our feelings. Eventually they leak out, and that’s when we do things we’ll later regret. 

To get some space between your feelings and your choices, it helps to have clear goals. When you are clear about the outcomes that you want to create, it’s easier to be led by those outcomes rather than by what you feel in the moment. You can feel an emotion, acknowledge it, and even express it to others, while still making the conscious decision to act in service of your goals.

Feeling Stuck in Your Feelings

People who feel things readily and intensely often spend a lot of time trying to avoid big feelings. They worry that surrendering to the full force of their emotions is akin to falling down a well that has no bottom. So they use denial, or they numb themselves with compulsive behavior, or they try to force themselves to feel differently. 

There’s a pop-psychology truism that applies here: What we resist persists. Feelings are transient; they ebb and flow within a few minutes, if we allow them to. But when we fight a feeling back, we stay stuck in it for longer than we need to be. 

If you are someone who fights against your feelings because you’re afraid of feeling them fully, you may need some help developing confidence in your own ability to process emotions. Remember, feelings are just sensations in our bodies. They can’t hurt us, and we don’t need to change them or to run away from them. A good therapist can help you let your feelings in, which allows them to pass through you, rather than remaining stuck.

You may also need some help changing your cognitive processes. For example, if you have a habit of rumination, that can keep a feeling alive for much longer than its natural lifespan. Catastrophic thinking and black-and-white thinking are other examples of cognitive processes that can feed negative mood states. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one therapeutic approach that can be very helpful in shifting mindsets like these. 

Ongoing exposure to the situation that’s creating the difficult feelings — like staying in a toxic relationship, for example, or trying to be friends with your Ex who recently broke your heart — can also be the culprit when you’re stuck in your feelings. When you listen to what your emotions are telling you and take healthy action on your own behalf, you’ll begin to heal and eventually to feel better.  

Finally, a negative mood state that persists for a long period of time, especially in the absence of an obvious “trigger,” can be a sign of depression or anxiety. If this is the root problem, it’s important that you get support from a qualified therapist. 

Exercises for Feeling Your Feelings

Therapy is a service that’s designed to help you feel your feelings. That’s a big part of how therapy works! Your therapist will help you tune into how you feel, build a better relationship with your feelings, and take influence from your emotional guidance system to create the life you want for yourself. 

Journaling can also be a valuable practice when it comes to feeling your feelings. If you develop the habit of writing in a journal on a daily basis, recording your experiences and the feelings they bring up, you’ll notice some patterns over time. Looking back at old entries can give you insight into your thought processes and the way you tend to deal with your feelings. Then, you can use this insight to make choices about the mindsets you want to cultivate, and the ways you want to handle feelings when they arise. 

As we’ve discussed in this episode, figuring out how you feel and how to access the wisdom available to you through your emotions can be a lifelong learning process. It is very helpful for many people to have a guide on this journey — someone who can shine a light on your blind spots, help you dig deeper, and teach you the skills and strategies to develop your confidence (and competence) in working with your emotions. 

If you’re interested in doing that transformational personal growth work with a therapist or coach on our team, we invite you to launch your journey of growth by booking a first free consultation meeting with one of our experts.

P.S. — If you want to learn more about building a healthy relationship with your feelings, check out our “Emotional Wellness” collection of articles and podcasts.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Feel Your Feelings

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Music

Music in this episode is by Peak Body with their song “Feelings.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://peakbody.bandcamp.com. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: So today, we’re gonna dive right into our topic, which is something that sounds simple, but can be surprisingly tricky, whether you’re going through a hard time, or whether you just want to grow, and that’s how to feel your feelings. How to tap into your emotions in an intentional and productive way. And I want you guys to know that this topic is coming directly from you, and in response to the questions that I’ve been getting from you guys. 

We’ve had wonderful questions coming through our website, growingself.com, to our blog and podcast page. I’ve been reading the comments that you guys have been leaving on recent posts, and also the things that you’re sharing with me through social media, in Instagram, Facebook, @drlisabobby, to our email account, hello@growingself.com. 

Many of your recent questions are variations on this theme. “I don’t feel good. I feel anxious. I feel upset. I feel hurt. I feel bothered,” or, “I feel confused. I need clarity. I’m not sure what’s going on or what to do next.” And the reasons for your feelings that you’ve been sharing with me have all been a little different. 

Some of you have been talking about relationships or life experiences, or you’re going through frustrations with your job, concerns about yourself, your life. I mean, there can be many different origins for the feelings or the desire to kind of get clear and find direction. And rather than focusing on a particular topic, which we also do a lot of here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, and that’s all fine. 

But a more direct route and one that I think will be more helpful for you, and really, finding the answers that you’re looking for, comes from learning how to feel your feelings. And this is super important because, when you have access to your emotions, when you’re able to regulate your emotions, but most importantly, when you’re able to take wisdom and guidance from your emotional guidance system, many, many things become clear to you.

Things that felt like catastrophes or confusing or like, “Oh my gosh–” Doors open, they become solvable problems, you see the path forward, and you can start to feel okay, and move forward, no matter what’s going on in your life, when you know how to work with and manage your own emotions. So this is super important and kind of fundamental and I’m glad that we can spend time here together today. 

If this is your first time potentially listening to the show, I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m a licensed psychologist. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m a board-certified life coach, and I just wanted to provide you with a little bit of background about me, so that you know what you’ve stumbled into, and that I do have some professional expertise and experience as well as personal experience in navigating these things.

Both for myself in my own life, but also with a lot of clients that I’ve had through a practice Growing Self Counseling and Coaching of which I’m the founder. I also work with clients. I also do clinical supervision and help therapists and coaches work with their clients around these topics, too. And so, as I was preparing for this podcast, I realized I have quite a bit to say about this. So anyway, I hope that it’s instructive and helpful for you. 

The feelings thing, it can, starting at the beginning, feel very confusing. And if you’re like most people, you’ve probably even wondered from time to time, whether you’re doing this whole feeling things right, you  now. I mean, “Am I feeling things too intensely? Am I having emotional experiences that are normal? Am I feeling things I shouldn’t be?”

For some people, it may be feeling numb. “I am not feeling enough. I feel disconnected from my feelings.” You could be in the middle of a crisis. You could just sort of be floating through life. But nobody really talks to us about our feelings. We can certainly get shamed or punished as young children for having feelings and for expressing them, certainly, the dark emotions.

We can be told not to feel certain ways: hurt, anxious, scared, right? But nobody talks to us about what we should be doing with our feelings. We don’t hear a lot about what is normal, and we certainly don’t get much information about how to lean into your feelings, and decode their language. 

Learn how to manage them, learn to understand even what they are, and how they can be of real value and almost like an internal lighthouse that we’re carrying with us throughout our lives. Nobody has those conversations with us, and it’s really too bad because many, many people arrive in adulthood, feeling very disconnected from their own emotions. 

This can split in one of two ways. Some people feel that their emotions are out of control. They feel things so intensely. They get swept away by their emotions. They say things they don’t mean. They can act impulsively based on how they’re feeling in the moment. And it causes problems for them in their relationships. They take actions that they regret later. 

That can be one manifestation of this, but a whole lot of other people kind of struggle on the opposite end of the spectrum; they don’t know how they feel. As a therapist, I’ve– yes, I do ask that question. “How do you feel right now? How does that make you feel?” And so many times, people will respond to that question by telling me what they’re thinking about, which is a totally different thing than what I’m asking them. 

It’s an important source of information for me, as a therapist, and those moments, because I’m like, “Okay. I understand where we need to work.” And so, a lot of people– even people going through hard things legitimately have no idea how they are feeling in the moment, and have many, even subconscious, coping mechanisms for feelings that involve numbing strategies, distraction strategies. 

Sometimes, even like substance use disorders can be very well developed and effective ways of deciding how you want to feel moment-to-moment, particularly, if you don’t have great emotional regulation skills. So there is a lot of stuff here. And learning how to feel your feelings and understand them, use them in a healthy productive way is more than a little bit complicated. 

For many people, aside from the 0.5% of the population who grows up in a family, who is very high in emotional intelligence skills and is actively training their children from a very young age in order to understand and manage and learn from their feelings, unless you’re one of those very rare people, this is a process that we all need to work on as we mature and grow.

Particularly, as we need to understand other people and have relationships and function in potentially difficult situations, on the job, off the job, and also be making difficult life decisions. It’s very easy to make poorly informed choices if you’re doing so without being connected to your emotional guidance system for reasons that you’ll understand as we go on. 

I just wanted to mention that because, while today we’re going to be talking about feelings and how to process emotions and what to do with them, I would also like you to understand that this really is a process. And for many people, it is a growth process that is measured in months, sometimes years. 

Listening to one podcast is not going to like, poof you into some miraculous state of being where you know everything about everything when it comes to feeling your feelings. And I hope that this gives you guidance, insight, direction, and also a set of practices that you can begin applying in your own life, potentially with the help of a good therapist or coach, as you develop skills and awarenesses in this area. 

Let’s just start with a question that may be on your mind that will help you be able to, I think, feel motivated to do the work that we’re talking about today– to be able to engage in the growth process that we’ll be talking about today. “Why do you need to feel your feelings and understand them?” I think that this is a legitimate question, and understandably, confusing for people because again, we are not– and I’m speaking from an American perspective here right now. 

But we are not socialized in a culture that places a lot of value or importance on emotional experiences. Our culture tends to prioritize and privilege thought, analytical thought, thinking, rational, logical ways of thinking. When we are faced with a decision, we are told to make pros and cons lists in which we evaluate benefits versus risks, or whatever. 

When we are often in professional roles, or even in relationships, our ideal is to behave in kind of logical and reasonable and intellectually understandable ways. And so, there’s a lot that goes into that, right? And I’m vulnerable to this as well. I tend to be an intellectual person. I like learning about things. It’s important for me to understand things. If you’re listening to this podcast, that’s probably true for you, too, right? 

You’re a learner. You want to understand, and that’s why you’re here. But the importance of feelings cannot be underestimated because they play a huge role in your personal growth, and they’re also this incredibly important source of data. Your feelings are telling you, all the time, about what is good for you, what’s not good for you, who you can trust, who you can’t trust, what situation is safe, what things should you avoid, what is important, what is not important. 

It’s also giving you a lot of information about yourself, your core beliefs, your motivations, your values, your fears, right? And so, if we aren’t connected to our feelings, we don’t have that information. I sort of liken feelings as being like any other physical sense. Like your sense of smell; smelling something provides information. It tells you if food is safe to eat. It tells you if something’s going to be yummy. 

It’s like information. Temperature, touch, the way something feels, is part of how we understand what it is. And I don’t know that we’re taught even to understand what feelings are in their most basic sense. So let’s do this for just a second right now. When you have a feeling, it is a physical sensation in your body. Feelings are physical sensations in your body. That is literally all they are. 

If you kind of reflect back on your own life experience, you’ll agree; that is what it is. Like when I feel anxious, me personally– and it’s important to know that feelings can manifest in different physical ways in different bodies and different people. So like, when I feel anxious, I will feel this, almost like a knot in the center of my solar plexus, between where my ribcage kind of meets in the middle. 

When I am feeling sad, I’ll often like feel that in my throat, in my face, like a physical sensation of wanting to cry. Which, interestingly, is often how I feel physically when I feel really moved by something beautiful or profound. When I feel tense, I can feel it in my back and in my shoulders. When I feel angry, I sort of feel it all over. I feel kind of rage-y feelings. It’s hard to describe. 

This is not about me and my feelings. I want to provide you with some examples of how feelings manifest. When I feel excited about something, I feel kind of energized and like, light, and sort of tingly and energetic, right? Like I could laugh, I can’t stop smiling, right? We have physical reactions to things. 

Many of these are not things or life experiences in and of themselves, but our feelings, our reactions to our thoughts, our core beliefs, our judgments, our expectations. I mean, really, with the possible evolutionary exception of things like spiders, snakes, heights, being rejected by others, survival stuff. 

I mean, we are primed to have reactions to those experiences that are just what they are. They are baked into the bread, right? We have an intrinsic reaction. We recoil from some things. We react in certain ways to others. But pretty much everything else in terms of life experiences that create emotions inside of us are fundamentally neutral. They don’t mean anything until we decide what they mean, and whether they are good or bad. 

We sort of run them through the filter of our own judgments and core beliefs, and then, we have feelings about them. And this process often happens so quickly that we’re unconscious of it even happening, but it’s there. When you take the time to tease it apart and understand where these feelings are coming from and why they make sense, they always make sense, and much can be illuminated through that discovery process. 

Feelings are an incredibly important data, information about yourself, about others, the world. To understand your own feelings is a fundamental ingredient in being able to have accurate empathy for the feelings of other people. If you are out of touch with your own feelings, and you don’t know how you feel, it is like literally impossible, to accurately understand how another person feels. 

Without that information, without that understanding, it is very, very difficult to behave appropriately in the moment in relationships. There’s kind of like a tone deaf quality that can damage relationships. It’s also very, very hard to make really good life decisions when you’re out of touch with your own feelings. 

If you don’t have a solid sense of awareness around what’s important to you, what you want to move towards, what you want to move away from, why– and you’re just trying to make logical decisions, particularly major life decisions on like, what kind of career to choose, who you should marry, “should you move?” Like, these things are important. 

To be disconnected from your feelings in those moments, it’s like being colorblind. And no offense to those of my listeners who are colorblind. I’m sure that there are ways around this, but it’s like missing a sense.

Missing your sense of smell, missing your sense of taste, or of hearing. You’re just– you don’t have all the information available that you should really be considering as you make these decisions. And so, there are so many important reasons to feel your feelings in the first place. 

I think that having this understanding, and I think, respect for feelings is an important first step in being able to feel them and to work with them. Because again, and I think that this is often more true for men than women, though not always, people who were acculturated in a male orientation, were sometimes taught to actively reject or discount their own feelings. 

When they did, as children or young people, try to communicate, feel, express, work with their feelings, they were shamed, rejected, shunned and sort of socialized away from that. And so, many people who were raised as males arrive in adulthood, being very suspicious of their own feelings and those of others.

It has not been presented to them that this realm is of value and something to be cultivated. Even this idea that– not to be overly dramatic– but that something was taken away from them, in this acculturation socialization process. 

They lost something, which is access to their own emotional guidance system. They were deprived of that through their socialization, and that as adults, they can do really great work around reclaiming that part of themselves that was lost. 

In a different yet related way, I think that people who were socialized as females, often, too, develop a lot of internalized shame around their own emotional experience. Particularly, if they were taught to believe that their feelings– while, maybe they weren’t shamed so much for having them, but that they were being kind of silly or inappropriate or not logical or reactive, or whatever, for expressing them, for feeling them. 

That feelings, that they did have and that they did feel, were seen as a weakness or liability, or worse yet, it’s very confusing if you’re having feelings about things that seem true to you, and consistently experiencing them as being invalidated or minimized, or kind of being talked out of your feelings. Particularly, when we  do that to children– children are being taught to do that to themselves. 

To a person, when I have worked with somebody as an adult, as their therapist, who really struggles with things like self-esteem, from feeling confident in making choices, or feeling like they’re good enough, when I unpeel that onion, I almost always find early childhood experiences or set of experiences growing up that has minimized, invalidated, diminished their own feelings, their own judgments, their own trust in themselves. 

That’s why they struggle to feel okay about themselves, is that the lesson was, “I can’t trust how I feel, and my feelings are not as relevant or valid or important as what other people are thinking. And so, I need to look outward. I need to get external validation. I need to get approval. I need to get direction. I need to get confirmation. Because whatever’s going on inside of me, that’s not right. I need to find that outside myself.” 

These things go really, really deep, and if you are, by any chance, a parent, a fellow parent, here with me right now, listening to this conversation, I just want to submit that to you– to be very careful, and to be, I think, very self aware. That is yet another reason why it’s so important for all of us to be doing this kind of work on ourselves. 

Because if we don’t have these things figured out, not to be perfectly perfect, but at least, to a degree, with ourselves, we are going to be subconsciously replicating the same old patterns, the same core beliefs, and the same experiences that we were put through as children with roughly the same impact on our own kids. 

I just wanted to say that out loud because that’s another reason for doing this work as an adult, and why it’s so amazing that you’re here with me listening to this podcast, and reflecting on these things, is that this isn’t just about you. Your ability to grow in this area is going to impact a lot of other people. 

I mean, the legacy of this is, I would argue, far greater than any wealth that you might accumulate over your life. The legacy that you would give to your children of– they are connected to their feelings, they understand themselves, they respect themselves, they have confidence in themselves, and they understand how to have a positive relationship with themselves and with others. 

That is going to be the legacy. That’s what echoes down for generations to come, right? As your children go on to have families, and as their children go on to have families, that’s what will carry forward. So again, I mean, no pressure here, but this is important.

In addition to understanding the significance of this work, I think the next idea, and something that’s worth working through, is being aware of tendencies to judge yourself or others for however you happen to currently be processing your feelings, right? Judgment isn’t helpful. And so, just step one, from wherever you are right now. 

Judgment isn’t helpful. Stop judging yourself about whether or not you’re currently feeling your feelings correctly. There is “right way,” and there is no “wrong way.” There are many shades of gray. I think the goal is to be loosely in contact with your feelings or be able to manage them most of the time. 

If you think of far ends of the spectrum, if on one far end of the spectrum, people are totally dysregulated and constantly freaking out, not to control themselves, that’s not– we need to walk back from that, so it’s good enough. 

On the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like numb, you don’t know what’s going on inside of you, or other people, we need to come back to the center there, so that you’re able to understand enough about yourself and others to be able to function effectively in the world, right?

It’s like opposite extremes of parenting. On one end, we have abuses. On the other end, we have neglectful. And walking it back to the center, we can have authoritative we can have permissive, we can have warmly, authoritarian. I mean, there are like many combinations of this. 

There are many good enough ways of parenting, of doing relationships that are within the general spectrum of health. And so, it’s the same when it comes to the way we interact with emotions. And so, if you are currently not functioning well because of not knowing how to handle your emotions or how to feel them at all, that would be as sign to me that– get the support of a good therapist sooner rather than later.

Who can help you cultivate more balance and self-awareness and emotional intelligence skills. And even though, at that point, you might be thinking, “Okay. Well, so it sounds like there are certain problematic ways when it comes to emotions; there are certainly less helpful ways of emotions.” 

But the point is, understanding that and having goals and things that you want to work on and improve, are different than judging yourself and beating yourself up and feeling ashamed or broken, or whatever the narrative is– like, that’s not helpful, and that will actually prevent you from being able to do the work ahead. You need emotional safety, and emotional safety starts with you. 

To be reminding yourself that, even if you do want to grow in this area, that that’s exactly what it sounds like in your own head. That’s not beating yourself up. It’s, “I hope to grow in this area, and I’m going to do that.” So leaving it at that, right?

In addition to not judging yourself for how you might be handling emotions currently, or for whatever you’re feeling, I think, it’s also really important to make a conscious decision to stop judging the emotional experiences of other people, too. Frequently, as we grow in the area of feeling our own feelings, our capacity for empathy, compassion, understanding others, being able to see the world through their eyes, grows and grows. 

To have a lot of judgment or feelings about what other people are doing or not doing, in terms of their own emotional management, is also not healthy either. It’s not helpful. It’s not helpful for them, the relationship. Referring you back to past podcasts, I mean, on dealing with control freaks or passive aggressive people or very self-centered people, totally is okay to set boundaries with people.

If they’re in a place in their life where they’re not able to manage themselves in a way that is conducive to having a healthy and emotionally safe relationship with you, that’s totally valid. You’re able to set boundaries. Remove yourself or create different expectations for that relationship, but to not get mad at people for the own process they have. 

It’s very much a result of the hand that they got dealt, right? And so, just to know that, I think, can help you there as well, because it’s also really easy to have feelings about other people’s feelings, isn’t it? So just to know, it’s okay to be a compartmentalizer. It is okay to be a ‘big emotional reaction in the moment’ type person. It is okay to cry at the drop of a hat. 

It is okay to feel angry. It is okay to feel like you want to avoid things. It is okay to need some time to know how you feel. It’s all okay, right? It doesn’t matter the way that it looks or manifests in any of us. What matters is, do we have understanding and respect for our own process? And do we have methods or ways of being able to take really helpful information from our feelings, and then act in appropriate ways. 

I tend to be, under most circumstances, a pretty major compartmentalizer. If something terrible happens, like I am– I don’t know why it’s kind of freaky– like, cool as a cucumber. I don’t feel a thing, and then, five to seven days later, sob hysterically. And like, I’m processing all the feelings all at once in a very delayed way. 

I’ve always admired, sometimes, people who are able to know exactly how they feel, and be in touch with all these emotions in the moment, and like– I’ve just never been that person. So that’s okay. 

I know that you– like my husband, for example, when he’s confronted with certain situations, he feels angry before he feels pretty much anything else; stressful or difficult situations. I mean, obviously, he has positive experiences before that don’t resolve in anger. But like, that’s just the leading edge of whatever it is. 

Then after that passes, he’s able to kind of sort through and there’s much more nuance and understanding, kind of, behind that leading wave, right? Other people tend to be very sensitive, which can be really impactful; feeling other people’s feelings, or having a lot of emotional reactions in the moment. It doesn’t matter. 

What matters is knowing what’s true for you, and how you tend to operate, and  being able to use some of the ideas that, I think, are so helpful, that we know from a really extraordinary type of therapy called, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a kind of cognitive therapy that’s based on mindfulness, but it’s also a very values-based kind of therapy. So it’s used in psychotherapy. It’s also frequently used by coaches who are familiar with this orientation. 

The premise of it is really to have a very strong foundation of self-awareness; to understand what is true for you. And it can be helpful to have some insight around why that is. I’m certain that if I did a bunch of therapy and journaling and figured it all out– “Okay, that’s why I probably don’t feel a whole lot in the moment and have a delayed reaction to things.” We all have that true story. 

But this kind of therapy says, it doesn’t matter why, in a lot of ways, interesting, helpful to have insight into ourselves, why we are the way we are. Okay, fine. But what’s much more important on a practical level is understanding our own tendencies, our own patterns, our own habitual reactions, the way that we’re likely to perceive the world, the way we’re likely to respond to the world, so that we can notice when those things are starting to happen.

Another piece of this is to be able to mindfully, and without judgment, accept our own internal experience; whatever it is, in a mindful way. So, for example, being able to notice how your body is feeling in any given moment, and without judgment, blame, or anything, be like, “Wow. I feel really angry right now. I am mad. I can feel this in my stomach and my chest. I can feel my heart beating.” 

“I’m aware of how it feels in my face, and I feel my voice raising. I feel like I want to yell at somebody right now.” Right? And just to notice it mindfully and also to accept this idea that emotions are just information. They’re literally physical sensations. They cannot hurt you. You don’t have to change them. 

You can feel really, really mad, frustrated, scared, sad, heartbroken, any of the things, and just be in the present moment, with your feelings, observing them without judgment, and that’s it. No further action is required. And what you will discover, if you’re able to mindfully engage in that practice, is that feelings are transient. 

They come and go on their own, whether or not you do anything to try to make them go away, they might come back, but they just ebb and flow. The analogy that I like to use, if you have lived near the ocean or have the had the opportunity to go to the ocean and go into the water– so if you imagine yourself in chest-high water with ocean waves, and waves come and they kind of lift you up, and then they put you back down again. 

But then here’s another wave; the same thing. And emotions are kind of like that, and that, if you freak out when a wave picks you up, if you struggle, if you fight, if you try to get away from it, if you try to change it, if you try to stop the ocean, you might drown, truly. And people can experience many, many negative consequences through these frantic efforts to get away from their own feelings, because they don’t know how to even tolerate them. 

They were not socialized to believe that having these physical sensations was anything but terrible, and something that should be avoided. So they will drink alcohol, they will use drugs, they will get into fights with people, they will take rash action, they will shut down, they will distract themselves, they will withdraw, they will avoid.

The only thing that changes is that it creates negative outcomes in your life, ultimately, if that’s all you know how to do. Any of those things are fine. I mean, you can react in any of those ways if you want to, and if the situation is appropriate. But the other really important piece of this kind of therapy, this Acceptance and Commitment philosophy, is that,  if you also have a lot of clarity around what it is that you want, what are the outcomes that you desire? 

How would you like to be in those moments? “Maybe I want to have close relationships. I would like to be an emotionally safe person for people that I love. I would like to be an emotionally aware and sensitive person for the people that I love. I would like to be able to feel calm and competent in these moments. I would like to feel clearer and kind of know what to do when I’m presented with challenging situations, instead of falling apart.” 

“I would like to be able to make a decision,” like, whatever it is for you. When you’re connected with the outcomes that you want, you can then, figure out what you need to do in terms of the behaviors, the actions that will get you there. And to be able to follow through with what those things are, independently of how you feel in the moment. 

We are separating the way that we feel from the actions we take and the things that we do. You can be very, very angry, raging, so mad, internally. And because your goal is to have positive and emotionally safe relationships with people you care about, and you know that you have a tendency to flare into anger very quickly, and that you need some time to kind of process and think, “Why am I so angry?” 

“What is this about? What am I going to do with this?” You’re going to need a day or two to do that. So the action there, in service of your goals, in service of what you want, is to be able to say to that person you love, “You know what, this is one of those times that I’m starting to feel really flooded, and I know that this is a really important conversation. We need to talk through this.” 

“I’m not sure that I can have a really productive conversation about this right now, and I want to. I’m going to need a little bit of time.” So you haven’t changed your feelings. You’re not trying to change your feelings. You’re just making a conscious decision to behave in ways that will be for the benefit of your relationships, and you’re also using that self-awareness to kind of talk to yourself around.

You need to pause. You need to go take a walk. Do some journaling. Figure out what’s going on for you. Figure out how you’d like to respond to this. Are you feeling threatened? Are you feeling hurt? Are there problems that need to be solved? Like, what’s going on here? You know that you need some time, and to communicate that to yourself and to others. 

Then to take that time, and to start to unpack the messages, the information that those feelings have for you because there’s a lot there. On the other side of this, if you feel often frozen or numb or you don’t have any feelings at all in the moment, I mean, this honestly, oftentimes, manifests in relationships. People are getting mad at you because you are not understanding them, and it is frustrating for them. 

In those moments, if you are aware of feeling numb, and like, “You’re right. I have– I don’t really know what’s going on. I’m not sure why you’re as upset as you are.” This can also show up if you find yourself surprised by the outcomes of your decisions over and over again. 

Not that being surprised by decisions is always related to this, but if you know that you have a tendency to be emotionally numb or disconnected from your feelings, and you’re not in the habit of checking in with that, and you are routinely surprised by things that happen, “Oh, this is different than I thought it was going to be,” or, “Wow, this sort of blew up in my face right here.” 

Particularly, if it’s related to other people, or even your own reactions to things after the fact, that’s a really great indication that it’s time to slow down and be self-aware. “In this moment, I really need to tap into my feelings in order to know what the right choices– what to do. And I feel numb. I don’t feel anything at all. So I don’t necessarily need to change this. I don’t need to make myself feel something that I’m not feeling.” 

“But I know that I need to take some time and process this. Maybe I need to go journal. Maybe I need to talk to my counselor or my coach or my friend. Maybe I need to draw some pictures, and like, figure out. Go visualize how would I feel maybe if this happened or if that happened.” 

“When have I had feelings before in similar situations?” You’re a slower processor, and that’s okay. But it’s knowing that about yourself, and then having ways of tapping into that goldmine of information, so that you don’t have bad experiences going forward. 

Something else that we should talk about, sometimes, people, especially people who can feel things very intensely, or who have a tendency to be kind of on that more reactive or getting flooded side of the spectrum, they can feel like they get stuck in certain feelings for longer than they believe they should. Maybe they are actually crying for hours. Maybe this has happened to you. Maybe you’re in the space and start to feel like you’re stuck in it. 

That is important to know about yourself, and it’s also important, again, to use this non-judgmental, accepting stance towards yourself– of self-acceptance, rather than necessarily seeking to change it to be able to shape an inner narrative that says, “I’m an emotional person. When I feel things, I feel them deeply, and they often stay with me for a while. This is just part of  who I am, and sometimes I wish it were different.” 

“But also, I like being connected to my emotions, because it’s not hard for me to know how I feel, and there’s value in that.” I do think that an opportunity for growth here, so that feelings feel less scary for you. Like, just to backup, sometimes, when people do feel things intensely, and when they tend to feel things for longer, they can begin to feel afraid of their own feelings, because they feel like they might be consumed or swamped.

Or if they allow an emotional experience to come in, they won’t be able to get out of it. And big feelings: heartbreak, grief, anger, fear; I’ve had people literally say, “I can’t let myself go there, because if I do, I’m afraid, I will never get out of that feeling again.” And that’s a legitimate fear. 

But I think that that fear comes from not feeling a sense of competence to be able to move into that space, and know that they’ll bounce off the bottom and come back out of it again, because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop those skills, right? They feel helpless in the face of emotions. And so, something to work on

I would advise doing this with a good therapist, who would be able to help you build concrete skills and strategies that are above and beyond what we can do on a podcast. But again, the work here isn’t trying to figure out how to change the feelings, it is often around figuring out what the thought process is that is getting you stuck in those feelings in the first place. 

For example, many times, it’s rumination or catastrophic thinking or overgeneralization or kind of black-and-white kinds of thinking styles that are what are keeping you stuck in the feeling anyway. And so, by learning how to work with your thoughts and develop cognitive skills, you can begin to help yourself feel more competent to allow those mood states to kind of come and go naturally, and not feel like they stick around. 

I will also say, and this is very important, is that, if you find yourself feeling bad or upset for prolonged periods of time, there could also be something else going on here. A symptom of depression, for example, is the experience of sadness, guilt, shame, hopelessness, helplessness. The symptoms of anxiety are feelings of fear, dread, apprehension, without having an actual, threat in the moment, as we’ve talked about on past podcasts. 

Anxiety is different than fear, and we need to listen to fear, right? Similarly, depression, is having these emotional experience in the absence of something that would warrant that, such as a death, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, right? 

I mean, these things are hard. And of course, you feel sad when you experience them, right? When you’re having these kinds of emotional experiences in the absence of a trigger, a wound, so to speak, that is a sign that there could be something that requires resolution. 

By working with a good– and I would suggest, looking for a clinical psychologist or an experienced mental health provider. who has a lot of competence around treating things like depression, anxiety, and other disorders that generate feelings in a way that’s different than what we’re talking about today. 

The other thing that is true about feelings, and this is where it gets really helpful and important, if you are feeling badly about something, I don’t know what it is, many times, too, people who tend to be more sensitive or who feel things more deeply can point to their own way of processing emotions as being the problem rather than looking around to see if, in fact, they are in a life circumstance that is creating harm or pain. 

We’ve talked a lot on this show about how it’s very possible to feel happy and content with yourself and your life, while also being on the path of growth and wanting to improve aspects of your life or get from here to there, and that’s all well and good. 

But a lot of people, when they are in situations that are not good for them, relationships that are not good for them, a job, a career. Maybe, it’s an organization with a toxic culture. Maybe, you got into a career path that is not meaningful for you. Maybe, there are other aspects of your life experience that really are worth exploring. 

The work here is often to listen to your feelings, and look at them as your friends. If you’re feeling really anxious and bad about going to your job, if you’re feeling overwhelmed about X, Y, or Z, your feelings are also telling you that maybe, there’s a problem. Maybe, there is something here that we need to pay attention to, and fix, resolve, work on. 

One of the functions of your feelings, again, physical sensations– it’s like, if you put your hand on a hot stove, you have a feeling that tells you, “This is hot. Take your hand off that stove, it’s damaging your skin.” And so, our emotions are also very much connected to our place in the world, and what is good for us and what isn’t. 

Again, because, we as a culture have been socialized to think of emotion, particularly dark emotions as being negative, as being things that we need to move away from, or avoid, we’re not taught what to do with these. 

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with, as a therapist, who are in a relationship that is bad for them, who are in a job or a career that they don’t like, and they never will, or who are living a life that is not congruent with who they fundamentally are and the things that they want for themselves in their lives, and they don’t feel good.

But they attribute it to things like depression, anxiety. They get on antidepressants. They come because they want to resolve their depression, and are surprised to learn through our work that actually, their feelings of sadness, anxiety, or dissatisfaction are not just valid, they’re also the best friends they have, because they’re telling them, “This isn’t good for you.” 

“You can’t stay here. You need to make a change.” Maybe it’s an external change, and maybe those feelings are pointing to changes that they need to make on the inside. This can often be true, for people who habitually feel stressed or overwhelmed on the job, who have a pattern of struggling in relationships.

Maybe it’s not leaving the job or leaving the relationship. Maybe these feelings are telling me that, for once and for all, I need to figure out what I’m doing to create this damn experience over and over again. But when we muzzle and suppress our emotions or trying to make them go away, we don’t even know what it is that we need to work on, or what’s important to us. So I just wanted to throw that out there, too. 

Then, one last tip here– actually, a couple last tips here. If you tend to be a compartmentalizer, or somebody who’s sort of a delayed processor, I just want you to know that you need space, and you need permission to work through feelings in your own way, and not feel judged or bad about your own way of being. It’s valuable. It’s fine, and there’s a reason why you are the way that you are that makes a lot of sense. 

Maybe it wasn’t okay for you to have feelings when you’re a kid, and because you were a good kid, you stopped. So, I mean, we could go in a lot of different directions here. Some people who had to caretake their own parents or other people, or who had to be superstar high achievers, like, a very powerful and appropriate survival skill is just to not feel things and do what needs to be done. 

There’s lots to unpack, and that work itself can sometimes be the path of reclaiming this ability to feel. Especially, I think, for compartmentalizers, to be able to, with guidance, with the support of a good therapist, to go back into the past and kind of reconnect with that earlier self, because your ability to feel isn’t gone, right? It just went dormant. 

Sometimes, the first step in being able to reclaim that, that ability, that former self, is by even learning how to go back and feel empathy and compassion, and even grief or sadness or fear, all of the things that you didn’t or couldn’t or weren’t allowed, or that it wasn’t safe to experience at an earlier time in your life.

Working with a really good therapist, and I’m not saying that this was like, fun work, or was like, “Yes. Let’s stir that pot and dredge up all those old feelings.” But I’m just a guide. I am the usher, sort of pointing the flashlight in that direction, and just telling you that if you would like to do this work, that’s often the path, is reconnecting with those feelings and those experiences. And it’s like waking something up. And again, it can be challenging work to sign up for. 

But to think about having a vital sense, restored. Like, if you didn’t even know that you are colorblind, and by doing that work, “Oh, that’s red. That’s blue. That’s orange. I had no idea.” And that’s what the experience is like for people at the end of it, and I think that you deserve to have that, so that would be the direction I would advise. 

Then also, just really quickly, before we wrap up here, a couple more pointers, when you have big feelings, and we all do, they’re giving us information. When you feel overwhelmed, when you feel devastated, when you feel heartbroken, there is no shame in that. You are having an experience of being wounded in some way. And the feelings that you are feeling are because of that. 

If it’s a lost relationship– I know that when my mom died, not a whole–  Well, I think I compartmentalized for a day and I had moments of compartmentalization. But I also had moments of sobbing hysterically and uncontrollably. And it was just totally beyond my ability to cope, right? 

Again, when we have those experiences, it is our emotional guidance system telling us that something profoundly awful has happened, and that we are in need of care. We’re not okay, and we need we need to take care of ourselves. We need help from others. Like, not okay. 

Imagine, like, if you broke your leg– if you broke your ankle, right? The problem is not the pain of, “Oh, I need to make this pain go away.” No. It’s the fact that you just broke your leg, you need treatment, you need to go to the hospital, you need to not walk on that leg for a while. You’re not okay. 

Listening to our feelings in those moments is essential. It’s essential. And our psychological defenses or any messages we have about shame or rejection of those feelings, or “I’m going to deny that. I’m going to avoid that.” To also have compassion if you notice yourself doing these things. It’s not a conscious choice. It is a survival skill. It’s okay. 

Also, to know that more damage can be done to you and to others by actively rejecting and avoiding your emotions on and on and on. It’s okay to subconsciously compartmentalize and do what you need to do. But if there’s never the right time to feel, if you’re always kind of kicking that can down the road, and sort of hoping it goes away, and bottle it up, and “I’ll deal with it later, and I can’t think about that right now.” 

It doesn’t go away. It never goes away. And sooner or later, that will need to be dealt with and processed. And if you don’t, it’s still not gone away, it’s just coming out sideways. That’s probably impacting your life, your relationships, your choices, your behaviors in many other ways that may not seem like a direct result of all of the feelings that you’ve been doing such a marvelous job of coping with; putting it in that box and keeping it there, as well as you have. 

But just understand that that strategy has consequences, long term. That’s it. And also, to work with a good therapist to help you begin going there, unpacking those boxes, but in a safe way. And I also just want you to know that a good, experienced therapist, not a life coach, not a self-anointed personal growth guru, but a legitimate, experienced therapist knows and understands that this is a process and that it feels challenging. It happens in layers. 

Nobody is going to push you into that pool or make you talk about things that you’re not ready to talk about, or put you in places that you’re not able to cope with, yet, right? There’s a scaffolding process. It will start slow, and it’s co-created. If your therapist asked you a question, and you’re like, “I don’t want to go there.” You can say that. 

“That’s something important that we should probably address at some point, and I don’t– I’m not ready for that. I would like to work up to it. Let’s make that a goal.” And any therapist who isn’t respecting those boundaries, or is moving faster than you feel comfortable with, my advice to you would be to say that out loud so that they understand. 

If they’re not hearing that or respecting your boundaries, then to get a second opinion and find a therapist who might be a better fit for you, because, even though this work is important, it needs to it needs to feel emotionally safe for you. Okay. So, that is a lot of information about feeling feelings, and I hope that, no matter what your processing style, you got some valuable takeaways. 

Just to recap, just understanding mindfully; self-awareness is key; to take a consciously non-judgmental stance in your feelings; think to understand them differently, they’re physical sensations that are sources of data information that are in response to either circumstantial factors or a function of your– the way that you’re thinking about things. 

Feelings can be coming from life circumstances, from thinking styles. Feelings can be advising us of pain and hurt. They can also sometimes, become activated in the absence of any of those things, and when that’s happening, we call that anxiety or depression. They’re disorders. They’re feelings are just churning, right? 

In addition to that, there is oftentimes many situations when people think they have anxiety or depression, when in actuality, their emotional guidance system is providing them with really important information that they would be better served by taking action from. 

We also talked about many ways to manage and cope with feelings in the moment. Certainly, therapy can be incredibly helpful. Even just being able to understand and put a name on your own feelings. I’ve talked about this experience in a past podcast, but I, myself, went into therapy as a young person, when, thank you for not judging me, I could not quit smoking cigarettes, and it was so frustrating to me. 

I remember sitting once with my therapist, and I was like, “It’s happening. I really want to smoke a cigarette right now. I can feel it.” And she was like, “Oh, yeah. What does it feel like?” And I was like, “I feel this like tension in my chest, and it’s like, right here, between my ribs.” And just describe this whole experience to her. Like, “I feel like I kind of have butterflies in my stomach.”

She’s like, “Oh, sounds like you’re describing anxiety.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah. That’s what anxiety feels like.” And literally, until that moment, had no idea that what I was interpreting as craving a cigarette, was actually me feeling anxious, and that smoking a cigarette would make that anxious feeling go away. 

As soon as I learned how to understand and deal with and manage anxiety, cigarettes were irrelevant. But those were really important puzzle pieces, and I don’t know if I would have come to that on my own. So again, there’s like a lot of benefit there, and therapists can help you do all kinds of things. Labeling feelings, being able to put them into words, understanding your own process, understanding your responses.

I think there’s also benefit of having a relationship with somebody like me, who doesn’t let you gloss, evade, hide, collapse into overwhelm, and stay there, right? I mean, you have somebody who can help you break those patterns and do something different. So, a lot here. 

I know we need to end. I feel like I could talk about this topic for, easily, another hour, but I’m going to let us all go. But I really hope that this discussion was helpful for you. If you would like more on this topic, I have recorded other podcasts on a variety of related things. 

You can find those in the Emotional Wellness collection of podcasts and articles I have for you on our website at growingself.com You’ll go to growingself.com/blog-podcast, and you can also find it from the main nav, obviously, but go to the blog page, you’ll enter the Happiness collection. 

Then from there, you’ll be able to find the Emotional Wellness collection, the Personal Growth, collection, and also, communication that connects healthy relationships, Empowered Connections. There’s also Holistic Life Design, which I think is very much related to what we were talking about today, and I hope that all of those resources are helpful for you. 

While you’re there, don’t forget to leave a comment or a question or shoot me a topic idea because I very much want to know what is important to you, so that we can talk about that more on an upcoming episode. Okay, my friends, thank you and I’ll be back in touch soon.

Growing Self Counseling and Coaching

Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation

If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *