What To Do When You Don't Know How To Feel Your Feelings
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
― Helen Keller
Do you know how to feel your feelings?
Maybe that’s a strange question and one you have never even thought about?
When you grew up how many times were you asked “How are you feeling?”
If you were raised by parents that respected your boundaries and asked you such questions that made you feel from a young age that your feelings and experiences were valid then today you will find it easier to check in with yourself by asking in any given moment “How do I feel?”
However many of us weren’t raised with parents like this.
It’s understandable given the post war stiff upper lip generation. The generation that experienced such hardships and traumas. The generation that never knew how to talk through their experiences so kept feelings and emotions buried. This lack of expressing emotions then filters down the generations so we don’t actually know how to feel our feelings.
“Emotional competence requires the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress; the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries; the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past.
- Dr Gabor Mate: ‘When the body says NO’
Maybe you tried to express your emotions growing up and you got the message that sharing your feelings weren’t safe.
Perhaps you got labelled ‘too sensitive’ or you were told to go to your room until you calmed down. Maybe if you shed some tears you got called a cry baby or were told “If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about” so overtime you learnt to shut your emotions off and you stuffed them deep inside you. The thing is unexpressed emotions remain trapped your body and over time find a way out through bodily illnesses which is why it’s so important to find healthy ways to let your feelings channel through.
So what do you do when you don’t know how to feel your feelings?
1.Firstly get comfortable daily asking yourself: “How do I feel?”
Every single day start asking yourself this question. It can be useful to perhaps write a list of feeling words down in a journal or on your phone notes. You may not know how you feel but understanding what makes you feel emotionally numb is the first step to feeling again!
You may even just come out with some basic emotive words but the more you get used to this the more you will start exploring feeling words.
So for instance, you wake up you go downstairs you go to the fridge and someone has used the last of the milk and put the empty bottle back in the fridge. Ask yourself “How am I feeling?” You could come out with words like. “Angry, Annoyed, Mad, Raging, Upset, Disrespected, Fed Up”. Just write them all down or voice them in your mind.
2. Acceptance. Chances are your feelings weren’t validated when you were younger which is why you have a hard time expressing them today and why you feel emotionally numb. So you need to start validating your own feelings and experiences. This can be done by affirming yourself.
“I am feeling angry and it is perfectly ok to feel this way”
“I am tired and uncomfortable and my experience right now is valid”
“I’m feeling scared and uncertain and it’s perfectly normal to feel this way”
“I accept every feeling that is channeling through my right now”
The thing is as I tell parents with children. Every feeling is VALID and ok to have, what is not ok sometimes is the behaviour that goes with it. So for example you can feel mad that someone drank the last of the milk, but what is not ok is then screaming, shouting and throwing the empty milk bottle at someone! So all your feelings are valid and should never be dismissed or stuffed down. “Oh I shouldn’t be feeling so disheartened, I should just be grateful’ (This just causes disconnect as your having an internal battle over your feelings.
3. Do something new and then think about how you feel.
Maybe you are really tapped out of your feelings and most days you feel like your operating on autopilot. (This is completely normal and can be a way of protecting yourself from feeling feelings). So what I would invite you to do is go and do something COMPLETELY different. Go to a restaurant you have never been to before where you don’t know what’s on the menu. Go somewhere by yourself when your not used to going out on your own. Watch a different type of movie to normal. Just find a new experience that you have never had before and during that experience be conscious enough to ask “How am I feeling right now?”
Recognise the intense emotions from extreme experiences but also notice the subtle emotions in the ordinary experiences.
“Emotions are not bad - they are communication, to yourself and to those around you. Especially, in children, emotions are a chance to see what’s going on beneath the surface”
- Ashley Soderlund - Nurture & Thrive
Do you have a hard time feeling your feelings? Can you bring your awareness around how feelings were dealt with when you were a child? Were your feelings validated, dismissed, ignored? I’d love to hear your thoughts on feeling your feelings.