Feel Your Feelings: a Practice
A couple of weeks ago I posted about feeling your feelings (for the "over-intellectualizing" types).
The post was about how the rhetoric around "feel your feelings" is dismissive and not helpful for us.
Here's why, and the advice I would've given us instead.
The Issue With "Feel Your Feelings"
There are two big issues with the feel your feelings conversations.
The #1 issue is that it's being told instead of taught.
Many of us don't even know what "feel your feelings" means.
This article will teach, or at least give an avenue to start exploring how to teach yourself.
The second, bigger #2 issue is that the conversation is only being had in the context of trauma and healing from trauma.
We fall into this habit of pointing out how important it is to feel your feelings when we're talking about the bad, deep, scary feelings that come with trauma.
Feeling your feelings isn’t about trauma.
Feeling your feelings is just as much as joy. Gratitude. Happiness. Empowerment. Love. Trust. Security.
Feeling your feelings isn't about this one part of your experience. It's about the whole of your experience.
It's about presence.
About allowing yourself to actually experience your life, instead of observing it or surviving it.
The good. The bad & ugly. They brilliant and beautiful.
The touching. The creative, & the artistic.
It's helpful for trauma, and yes, we do have to feel to heal.
But it isn’t about trauma, and you don't need to start there.
Actually, it could be true that your body isn't letting you start there for a reason.
It could be true that perhaps trusting your body to know what it's talking about is a good idea.
Today, you get to discover if that's the case, and what feeling your feelings really has in store for you.
What Does it Really Mean to Feel Your Feelings
Emotions live in the body. We do a lot of shit with them.
Sometimes we run from them. We distract ourselves (often compulsively & without realizing it), deny them, judge them, talk ourselves out of them, and keep it moving. We "move on".
We abandon them, thereby abandoning an entire side of ourselves.
In this case, we become logical and dismissive of the human experience, both in others and in ourselves.
Other times we become our feelings.
We ruminate. We let them overwhelm us. We spiral. We let them drive the bus and live through them.
There are probably decent times & places for all of these things, but to "feel your feelings" isn't any of this.
Feeling your feelings means allowing the physical sensations of your emotions to exist within you without running from them, distracting yourself, judging them, fighting them, muting them, or becoming them/getting stuck in them.
It means just sitting with them as they are, honoring them, and empathizing with them until they've run their course.
Feeling your feelings is the practice of holding space for yourself.
It's about connecting with the physical aspect of feeling our emotions. If someone touches your arm, your feel that.
Feeling our feelings is akin to an inward sense of touch in that way.
It's literal. To let your emotions touch you physically, without pulling away or crumbling.
To feel your feelings is to witness yourself.
It's a simple concept but it's not a simple practice for a lot of reasons.
Sometimes our bodies don’t want to show us what we’re feeling.
Our bodies know what the mind can handle and we've been unconsciously or consciously telling it for years that we can't handle that.
Our bodies have been rejected by us, our families, friends, significant others, and wider society for a long time.
When feelings get "big" we believe they can knock us down.
This belief has a lot of power. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping us from doing what we know we need to do to survive when the feelings show up.
And our bodies have one job: keep surviving.
So if the feelings get in the way of that, our bodies stop allowing us to feel them.
This isn't necessarily smart though.
These feelings come up in a lot of other ways. Trauma responses, sure. But also high blood pressure, anxiety, weakened immune systems, fibromyalgia, eating disorders, and addiction, among other physical ailments and diseases that all have strong ties to emotional suppression and stress.
Our emotions still run shit in the background, even when our lack of awareness helps us think we're "rational" and "in control".
This is by design.
Our bodies can't get rid of our feelings. But if we can keep functioning by not being aware of and overwhelmed by our feelings, that's the best shot our bodies have at a middle ground to survive.
It's a Trust Issue
Something happens to disconnect us from our bodies. Maybe many things.
That disconnect happens because the emotions are too overwhelming to cope with. So the only way left to cope is to dissociate on some level (leave our bodies).
Trust is broken between our bodies and our conscious minds at that moment.
It's not our fault.
It's our bodies' way of protecting us because they struggle to believe that, even after all this time, we can handle the emotional pain enough to keep functioning.
To learn to feel again is a practice of building trust with our bodies that we have the tools and capacity to feel now without it wrecking our shit.
You're a feeling creature. I'm a feeling creature. We all are.
Our emotions aren't dangerous, but the shit we've been taught to believe about them is very dangerous.
For us to feel our emotions we have to discover that we can handle them.
Oftentimes, this happens step by step.
And no, it doesn't have to be painful emotions.
We can just as easily practice by focusing on emotions that bring us happiness and joy.
We can't learn one without the other though.
Capacity to feel is capacity to feel. The capacity is a glass. We have some influence over deciding what fills it, but ultimately we have to know that we're going to feel it all in the long run.
The deeper your capacity to fill joy, the deeper that same capacity is to feel pain.
The key is to know you can handle it all, and that you can design a life that brings you more joy than pain so your body doesn't have to worry so much about burning out on painful emotions.
Feeling your feelings is a practice of building trust in this way, and it happens one step at a time.
A practice we're here today, to start dipping into.
Feeling: The Practice
Learning to feel isn't an activity you do in therapy to let go of the past.
It's not a moment in a sad movie where you get a good cry out and get back to ignoring yourself.
We all have different styles and ways of feeling, but one thing that's true of feeling people is that they learn to consider their feelings as a part of who they are.
Some of the most logical people I know own their feelings in full.
They're whole because they let both the logical and the emotional play together.
They also tend to have fewer blind spots in general. They see the bigger picture and are often in a wise state of awareness compared to people operating from one end (myself included before I started to understand this more deeply).
In this way, learning to feel isn't about processing trauma. It's about being.
A part of being happens to be processing trauma.
But when feeling, you discover more than how to process trauma.
You discover how to love more deeply. Explore more creatively. Think more freely. Navigate the world more nimbly. Heal more fully. Embrace yourself whole.
Learning to feel frees your spirit from the processes and systems that have oppressed you, in a way. Even if the systems still impact your flesh.
There are certain things these systems can't take from us if we know how to overcome them.
The feeling is one. Connecting is one. Being is one. Creating is one.
So, it's not about feeling bad.
It's equally, if not more, about allowing yourself to feel the goodness of life, even when things are chaotic.
Let's start there.
Practice No. 1 - Noticing.
Emotions are physical sensations that live in the body. Feelings are what happens when we take those emotions and apply meaning and story to them.
"I feel grateful" has a bodily sensation we apply the meaning of "gratitude" to.
The things we're grateful for usually have a backstory and context. If "gifts" is the lowest on my love languages, I might not have a feeling of gratitude when people purchase me gifts.
I might instead have a feeling of skepticism. And this is often because there's a story there in my past that jaded my view of receiving gifts.
The story, meaning, and physical sensation all work together to form the feeling.
Many of us can rationalize the story and meaning. We have awareness because of the patterns and thoughts we have access to.
But most of the time we say "I'm grateful" without having any awareness of what's happening in our bodies.
Step 1 of feeling is noticing the body.
This is often easier with happy emotions when we're starting out.
As you go through the day, pay attention to your body.
Notice what happens. Even if you do nothing else with it, simply notice what parts of you activate when you're feeling different things.
When your voice raises, notice what else is going on. When you're feeling hopeful, notice what tingles or activation you might feel in your body.
This is the base-level practice of developing emotional awareness in the body.
More specific practices are below for premium subscribers.
Practice No. 2 - Channeling
We can also channel feelings to help us practice noticing them.
Gratitude practices are one of the most slept-on practices on the planet imo.
There's a lot of power in thinking of things you conceptually feel grateful for and allowing your body to actually channel a felt sense of gratitude for these things.
If you're spending every day angry with the world and think the world needs to change before you can stop being angry, I challenge that.
Spend 5-10 minutes a day channeling gratitude and see how your world shifts as a result.
This is especially good practice if you struggle to tap into sad emotions and cry. Who said you had to be sad to feel?
Tap into happy emotions and cry from those instead.
The more often you practice, you'll notice it's easier to find things to be grateful for.
You'll also notice your body settles into understanding gratitude is a safe feeling, and will allow you to tap into it more often.
Gratitude is one of the easiest to channel because most of us have something we're grateful for, but the same goes for other emotions.
If you spend every day feeling powerless, think of one moment in life when you felt empowered, and channel that.
(Yes, the "fuck around and find out" strut we have after watching an Avengers movie totally counts).
Bring that emotional sensation up in your body & channel it. Channel it when cooking eggs. Channel it when on a hike. Channel it when walking into a coffee shop.
Don't channel it for what other people think. Just channel it to practice feeling. Notice in your body what comes up.
Do it for other emotions too. Same for playful, joyful, curious, engaged, all of them.
You don't have to wait for the world to give you permission to feel good things.
All of these emotions live inside of you already. You can have them whenever you want.
Channeling any emotion that doesn't feel natural and safe is going to be a practice and it's going to have a learning curve.
Even if it seems like a healthy emotion on paper, your body might not agree just yet. It might not trust it if that emotion hasn't kept you safe in the past.
If you got punished as a child for expressing emotions of joy and playfulness, experiencing those emotions now might feel vulnerable and scary for you. Your body might not feel comfortable tuning in.
That's okay, remember this is a practice.
Choose one from the feelings wheel that feels safe and healthy enough (it won't overtake you or lead to destructive things) for now, and start there.
When you tap into channeling your feelings, remember to notice them. This is a compound of that practice to help you start to get in touch with your body.
Channel, and notice. That's it.
Practice No. 3 - Separating
Notice how my first mention of gratitude wasn't "I am grateful" so much as it was "I feel grateful."
This is because our feelings aren't who we are. Our feelings are a part of us, but we're always bigger than the emotion of the moment.
Remember when I said "The story, meaning, and physical sensation all work together to form the feeling"...
Well, that story, meaning, and physical sensation is a small part of our greater story as the person who's feeling the feeling.
We also have a story, and a lot of other feelings and experiences, lessons, strengths, and more that make up who we are. We have a lot of resources to pull from to sit with our emotions.
The issue isn't that our feelings grow so big they overwhelm us.
It's that we shrink to become them because at that moment, we've forgotten the rest of who we are.
When we become them, we act from that story, that meaning, and that emotional sensation, forgetting the rest of ourselves.
One of the reasons our bodies struggle to trust us to feel is that our bodies know how susceptible we are to forgetting that our feelings aren't our entire universe when we're actively feeling them.
So we go from having awareness of our emotions to having a complete lack of awareness of our emotions, because when we're aware of them, we become them.
Our bodies can't trust us to survive if we become every emotion we feel.
Becoming our rage is going to give us some pretty piss poor results in life.
The same is true for becoming our feelings of success and power.
The key is to separate ourselves from our emotions enough to know that we're experiencing them, but we're not them.
This is a healthy separation that allows us to know, express, embrace, and use our emotions without letting them rule us.
As you continue to channel and notice your emotions, practice separation.
Practice saying I feel instead of I am.
More practices for this are available for premium members.
Practice No. 4 - Communicating
When we separate we grant ourselves and our bodies a special gift. The gift of being able to communicate with our bodies and our emotions.
You can take your anger and sit beside it in your imagination.
You can let it know you notice it and thank it for speaking up to let you know something is wrong.
You can feel it soften as you give it the acknowledgment the world has neglected.
You can get curious and ask it about its experience and what it needs.
You can feel it rise again as it vents.
You can practice staying within yourself as you witness your anger within and beside you.
You can offer it compassion and support.
You can feel it soften again as it feels heard by you.
You can set healthy boundaries with your anger and explain why these boundaries are necessary for the whole of you, while also explaining that you want to support it and help it get its needs met.
You can feel the system of feelings inside of you start to trust you and open up more and want your guidance and acknowledgment as you get better at this.
You can feel the authenticity of whatever happens next.
You can stay curious, compassionate, and separate from your anger until you see it through.
Now, instead of becoming the anger itself, you're befriending your anger.
Now, instead of ruminating within your mind and body, you're listening to it like a close friend or your own child venting to you.
Now, you feel it as a compassionate loved one, like empathy. You take it seriously but your head is on straight.
Now, you get to practice wisdom.
This is self-love.
Practice No. 5 - Playing | Creating | Moving
These days I tend to think we're all born creators and explorers.
The world is our muse. We're the creators. "Self" is our canvas, as are our lives.
The "blank slate" of babyhood is the birth of our own personal canvas as well as us as artists.
If our parents, caregivers, peers, etc. don't have access to their own tools or don't see their own canvas, they do their best to take our tools, and control our canvas.
This is trauma, whether anyone knows it or not.
Step one of feeling isn't about going back there, though.
Step one of feeling can simply be to start exploring our tools and our canvas through feeling.
Now we know how to notice, channel, separate from, communicate with, and befriend our emotions, imagine what you can create from that place.
Creating is a healthy expression of feeling.
Creating doesn't just mean art.
We create a play with our spirits. We create motion with our bodies and minds.
Creating is where our emotions get to have a say and be expressed, seen, heard, understood, valued, and embraced as they are.
And when this happens for them through a healthy form of self-expression, there's no need to get destructive in search of these things.
The more you include your body's logic (emotions) in your decision-making of how you use your canvas of life, the happier and fuller your life begins to feel because the entirety of you is being held, valued, appreciated, and cared for.
The whole of you has a place here. This is what it means to love yourself. To accept yourself whole, and allow the whole of you to exist.
The more you hold space for the emotions within your body as you create your life, the more your body trusts you.
Practice No. 6 - Connect Through
When we get to a place where we can be with our feelings instead of in our feelings, and can create freely from that space, we start to naturally (I think) focus on a different type of human connection.
Shared proximity and ideals stop being enough. Now we also want shared emotions.
This sounds scary af and it often is. Everyone around you isn't going to be ready to meet you in that space.
Remember that everyone has their own journey and their own pace for that journey.
Focus on staying true to your own.
Invite the people around you to meet you and join you.
But also, find people who can meet you where you're at.
Recap: Key Takeaways
- Feeling your feelings isn't about trauma and feeling painful emotions. It's about being and experiencing, including "positive" emotions.
- It's a practice of building trust with your body. Of teaching the body that you have the tools and capacity now to handle your emotions.
- Emotions live in the body, so feeling your feelings begins with noticing your body.
- It's about sitting "with" your emotions, not "in" your emotions. Instead of letting your feelings become you, sit with them from an empathetic place.
- Start with feelings like "gratitude" or positive ones instead of painful ones. Choose "safe" feelings from the feelings wheel and channel them.
- Create, play, and move as a form of expressing your feelings.
- Connect with others through mutual exchange of emotional expression. Discover how to hold space for others the way you're learning to hold space for yourself. Practice this, and find people who can practice this with you.