Minding Your Emotions: How to Recognize and Deal with Your Feelings (Part 3)
Getting to know and understanding ourselves, our stories, and our feelings is such an important part of personal growth. Learning to live with difficult feelings instead of self-medicating, numbing ourselves, or in some other way avoiding vulnerability is the stuff of life. Doing this hard work of being aware of and owning our “stuff” is key to living with meaning and fulfillment.
In part 1 of this series, I shared a personal experience to illustrate how important learning to deal with our most painful feelings is important. In part 2, I talked about why some people have trouble identifying and describing what they feel. In this post, I’d like to share with you some strategies for how you can learn to get to know yourself and your feelings a little better.
Tips for Minding Your Emotions
Start with What You Know
Whenever we try something new, it can be discouraging if we don’t give ourselves some “quick wins” to build up some momentum and positive energy. Learning what you feel when you may have spent a lifetime trying to tune out your emotions isn’t very easy; it can take a lot of effort and will. So, as you practice turning inward and checking in with yourself, ask, “What’s going on with me?”
It’s okay to fumble around. Don’t worry about language so much, editing what comes up, or getting it “just right.” If it helps you capture what you feel, use a metaphor, a story, an anecdote—anything that’s helpful in describing what’s happening for you. My clients do this all the time. Speaking of which . . .
Go See a Therapist
Therapists are trained to help you identify whatever you feel without judging or evaluating it. Since we’re usually good at judging our feelings, it can really help to be with someone who can give us a hand at, um, not doing that. Your therapist should also support you in trying to put words to what you’re feeling and helping you articulate your experiences more clearly.
When you’re searching for a therapist, pick someone whose presence, both online and in person, resonates with you. It’s important for you to feel safe with that therapist if you’re going to practice airing your feelings.
Mind Your Body
It sounds weird, but oftentimes our body “knows” stuff about what’s happening for us sooner and better than we do. Remember Spiderman’s “spidey-sense” where his body says, “Hey! Spidey! Something’s wrong here!”? It’s the same deal. I won’t get into how that works right now as it’s a bit beyond this post, but if you want proof, look at the pudding.
I mean, we’ve all had instances where we’ve suddenly had a visceral, bodily reaction to a situation we’ve been in or some conversation we’ve had. Maybe your stomach dropped. Your hands started to tingle. Your throat tightened. Whatever your body is telling you, pause for a moment and tune in. Bodily sensations are important signals that we’re feeling something important.
If you want to keep track on your phone, an app like MetaFi is great.
I love journaling for two reasons. First, it forces you to mind your emotions. Writing about your experience means that you have to engage in self-reflection, which is the first step in getting to know yourself. Journaling is an regular, intentional step in cultivating the habit of self-awareness.
Second, journaling requires that you somehow put into words that which may be challenging to describe or don’t know much about. This can be challenging work, but the rewards are awesome. Sometimes therapists call those aspects of yourself that are hard to describe unformulated experience, because you simply haven’t been able to get to know those parts of yourself yet. In finding and formulating words for those parts, you can bring them into the light so that they’re not confusing strangers anymore.
Use a feelings list or chart
Using a feelings list or chart to help you identify what you feel can be a little weird at first. For most people that I’ve worked with, usually this weirdness is shame about needing to use a list or chart to do something that others seem to do so easily.
The truth is that charts like this one are so ubiquitous on the Internet because a lot of people need help with articulating what they’re feeling. Keeping a chart like this in your phone or on your fridge (or any place that it’s handy and accessible) can, over time, help you associate words with your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.
Minding Your Emotions: Listening for the Story
Identifying how you’re feeling is crucial but it’s also important that you don’t stop there. Tuning into what’s going on with you that you’re feeling the way you are matters just as much, if not more. After all, just as words make more sense within the context of a story, so too feelings are important clues about the ongoing stories we tell ourselves.
Next time, we’ll look at how to be curious about the stories you tell yourself about how you’re feeling.
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