Feel Feelings

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Emotions are a fundamental part of the human experience. However, many of us have learned to suppress, ignore, or avoid feelings that are painful or uncomfortable. While this may seem easier in the short-term, avoiding our emotions can be unhealthy and prevent us from living full, authentic lives. Making space to feel your feelings fully offers valuable benefits that are worth embracing.

Why should I feel feelings?

Feelings provide us with crucial information about our underlying needs, values, desires and relationships. Paying close attention to the wisdom of our emotions helps guide us towards better decisions and alignment with our true selves. Suppressing feelings may lead to stress, anxiety, depression and emotional outbursts down the road. Processing emotions as they arise facilitates healing, growth and an inner calm.

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Feeling our emotions allow us to connect with others authentically

When we are in touch with our own emotional landscape, we are able to express ourselves more genuinely in relationships. By taking the time to identify and process feelings as they arise within us, we become fluent in the language of emotions. We develop emotional intelligence. This self-awareness and emotional literacy enables us to communicate our true selves more authentically.

Conversely, bottling up emotions lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. Unexpressed feelings often manifest in unhealthy behaviors, such as passive-aggressiveness or sudden outbursts, which can significantly harm relationships and foster unnecessary conflict. Expressing your emotions allows others to comprehend your perspective and respond appropriately, reducing conflicts and cultivating stronger, more transparent relationships.

Feelings are part of human nature

Babies and toddlers express their emotions freely and openly, without filter or hesitation. They cry when sad or frustrated, laugh when happy, get angry and throw tantrums when upset. This is all a natural and healthy part of their development.

As adults, we often learn to suppress or inhibit the expression of our emotions, which can be detrimental. But each of us were once babies, freely and authentically expressing how we felt in the moment. Emotions are meant to flow through us, not be bottled up or resisted.

Expressing feelings openly and genuinely is our natural state of being. These emotions are nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of. They are a fundamental part of who we are. By releasing the tendency to filter or repress how we feel, we can reconnect with that natural innocence we all had as children.

Rather than judging our emotions as negative or positive, the goal can be simply allowing them to arise and pass through us, just as they do in babies and young kids. This allows emotions to serve their purpose – giving us information, energy and aliveness. Learning to embrace our full emotional experience honors our basic human nature.

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Build inner strength by facing your emotions

Facing emotions builds inner strength. When we feel anger, hurt, grief or insecurity fully, without avoiding them, we build our capacity to sit with discomfort. Like exercising a muscle, this emotional resilience grows each time we lean into the challenge.

Processing difficult feelings as they arise prevents them from building up uncontrollably. With practice, we learn we can handle these emotions without losing control or being defined by them. This realization builds self-trust in our inner fortitude. We develop the ability to maturely weather any feeling that life brings our way. By embracing the full range of human emotions, we cultivate introspection and self-compassion. Our strength comes from facing feelings, not repressing them.

Facing emotions builds inner strength. When we feel anger, hurt, grief or insecurity fully, without avoiding them, we build our capacity to sit with discomfort

Suppressed emotions weigh us down like heavy baggage we carry everywhere

When we keep emotions bottled up inside and unexpressed, they can weigh us down over time. Unresolved anger, worry, sadness, and other feelings accumulate like heavy baggage we carry everywhere. Believe it or not, suppressing or avoiding feelings often demands far more energy and effort than acknowledging and addressing them.

The energy expended in suppressing emotions doesn’t simply disappear; instead, it lingers within us, impacting various aspects of our lives. It affects our mental clarity, emotional well-being, relationships, and even our physical health. The unresolved emotions simmer beneath the surface, causing stress and tension that gradually accumulate over time. Acknowledging and processing our feelings, even if they’re uncomfortable, can help release their grip on us. 

How to feel your emotions

feel the emotions

emotional literacy

Do you ever struggle to pinpoint exactly what emotion you’re experiencing in the moment? You may notice physical sensations in your body or cloudy feelings swirling around, but find it hard to name the specific emotion. Learning to accurately identify and label your feelings takes practice – but it’s a skill can increase your emotional intelligence. By tuning into the subtle physical and mental cues related to emotions, you can unlock greater self-awareness.

Step 1: Pay Close Attention to Your Physical Sensations

The body provides important clues about feelings bubbling under the surface. Start by simply noticing any physical symptoms you are experiencing. Tightness in your chest or throat may signal sadness or grief. Butterflies in your stomach can indicate nervousness or anxiety. Clenched fists or a tensed jaw often accompany anger. Feeling energized and light can reflect joy. Tingling hands may mean you’re anxious or excited.

Make mental notes when these physical reactions arise. They are signposts pointing to what’s happening internally. Over time, you’ll learn your own unique physical patterns that accompany certain emotions.

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Here are examples of physical sensations and emotions they could point to:

Recognizing these bodily signals as potential indicators of underlying emotions can aid in developing a deeper understanding of one’s emotional landscape. It’s also important to understand the difference between these bodily signals as they relate to emotions versus purely physical/medical causes. If these bodily signals persist or cause significant discomfort, consult with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying physical conditions.

1. Butterflies in the Stomach

That fluttery sensation in your stomach before a big presentation or during moments of excitement? It’s a classic example of the mind-body connection. This sensation often accompanies feelings of nervousness, anticipation, or excitement, triggered by the release of stress hormones like adrenaline.

2. Tightness in the Chest

Ever felt a tightness or heaviness in your chest, almost as if a weight is pressing down? This sensation can arise from emotions like anxiety, stress, grief, or even sadness. It’s the body’s way of manifesting emotional distress physically.

3. Rapid Heartbeat

A racing heart isn’t always due to physical exertion. Intense emotions like fear, anger, or excitement can accelerate your heart rate. The body’s “fight or flight” response kicks in, preparing you to face a perceived threat or an emotionally charged situation.

4. Clammy Hands or Sweating

Sweaty palms or increased perspiration might accompany feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or stress. It’s a natural response as the body tries to regulate temperature and cope with heightened emotions.

5. Headaches or Muscle Tension

Stress, anger, or pent-up emotions can manifest as headaches or muscle tension. Clenched jaws, tight shoulders, or recurring headaches might be your body’s way of signaling emotional strain.

6. Fatigue and Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion can manifest physically as persistent fatigue or lethargy. Continual stress, anxiety, or unresolved emotions can drain your energy, leading to prolonged feelings of tiredness.

7. Digestive Issues

Emotional distress can often upset the digestive system. Nausea, stomachaches, or digestive discomfort might accompany feelings of anxiety, worry, or emotional turmoil.

8. Dizziness or Lightheadedness

Feeling lightheaded or dizzy might occur during moments of extreme stress or overwhelming emotions. It’s the body’s response to increased adrenaline or changes in blood pressure due to emotional arousal.

9. Shallow Breathing or Hyperventilation

Emotional distress, anxiety, or panic can lead to rapid, shallow breathing or even hyperventilation. This alters the oxygen and carbon dioxide balance in the body, intensifying feelings of anxiety.

10. Tingling Sensation or Numbness

Feelings of numbness or tingling in extremities, such as hands or feet, might accompany emotions like extreme stress, panic, or an overwhelming sense of detachment.

11. Flushed Face or Blushing

Blushing or a flushed face can signal embarrassment, shame, or even anger. It’s a visible sign of emotional arousal that reflects underlying feelings in social situations.

12. Dry Mouth

Experiencing a dry mouth or a parched feeling might accompany feelings of nervousness, fear, or anxiety, especially in situations causing emotional stress.

13. Frequent Urination or Digestive Urgency

Intense emotions like anxiety or fear can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response, leading to an urgent need to urinate or sudden digestive urgency due to heightened stress levels.

14. Change in Appetite

Emotional distress can influence appetite, causing either a loss of appetite or an increase in cravings. Stress or emotional upheaval might lead to comfort eating or conversely, a lack of interest in food.

15. Rapid Speech or Stuttering

When emotions run high, speech patterns might change. Rapid speech, stuttering, or difficulty articulating thoughts can accompany feelings of anxiety, excitement, or nervousness.

16. Change in Body Temperature

Strong emotions can cause fluctuations in body temperature. Feeling unusually hot or cold might accompany intense emotions like anger, anxiety, or excitement.

17. Restlessness or Fidgeting

Restlessness, constant fidgeting, or inability to stay still can be physical manifestations of emotional agitation, anxiety, or distress.

 
Simply saying you feel "good" or "bad" is too broad and limiting. Get more precise in naming the rich spectrum of human emotions. For example, are you feeling irritated or furious for anger? Worried or terrified for fear? Try using more nuanced labels like frustrated, insecure, resentful, melancholy, content, optimistic, etc. Enrich your emotional vocabulary so you can better detect each feeling.

Step 2: Name and describe your feelings

Simply saying you feel “good” or “bad” is too broad and limiting. Get more precise in naming the rich spectrum of human emotions. For example, are you feeling irritated or furious for anger? Worried or terrified for fear? Try using more nuanced labels like frustrated, insecure, resentful, melancholy, content, optimistic, etc. Enrich your emotional vocabulary so you can better detect each feeling.

Use tools like emotion wheels or lists of feeling words to expand your labeling terminology. The more specific you can get in naming emotions, the easier it becomes to recognize them in the moment. You’ll gain clarity on your inner experience and can then take steps to effectively deal with each feeling.

If you're still feeling stuck, here are some ways to help you explore your feelings:
  • If another person went through the same situation as I did, what would they be feeling? How would they be reacting?
  • Is there a drawing, picture, or image that comes to mind that depicts how I feel?
  • Is there a poem or song lyrics to depict my current emotional state?
  • If my feeling was a color, a symbol, an animal, or a plant, what would it be?
  • If I allowed my body to move in a way that expressed how it felt, how would I move it? Would it be in a certain posture? Would it dance? Let your body move freely, allowing your feelings to guide your motions.
  • If your feeling was a type of weather, what would it be? Draw or describe the weather that matches your emotion.
  • Use modeling clay or playdough to sculpt something that represents your feeling. What shape, texture, and form emerges?
  • How would your emotion decorate a room? What are the colors, textures, shapes, and objects it would surround itself with to express itself?
 

Step 3: Track your feelings in a journal

Journaling is a powerful way to develop your emotional intelligence. Set aside 5-10 minutes each day to write about your emotional states. Jot down feelings you noticed, situations that triggered them, how sensations manifested physically. Also note emotions you had difficulty identifying or labeling that day.

Regular journaling establishes check-ins with yourself to heighten awareness of feelings arising throughout your daily life. Over time, you’ll notice patterns about your triggers, physical reactions, and any problem emotions that persist.

Reflect on your patterns around certain emotions. Do some persist while others pass quickly? What impacts you deeply versus mildly? What triggers keep arising? These insights equip you to regulate emotions and address areas needing focus. Consistent tracking strengthens your capacity to read your inner emotional landscape.

 

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Step 4: Process emotions with compassion

how to process emotions

As you build awareness of your feelings, be sure to listen to them compassionately, without judgment. Don’t dismiss emotions like anger, hurt or sadness as bad or wrong. They deserve your openness and curiosity as much as joy and peace.

Rather than resisting uncomfortable feelings, recognize that they are communicating something to you. Anger shows something needs protecting or changing. Hurt reveals a need for healing. Fear points to an area for growth in courage. 

If you're still feeling stuck, here are some ways to help you explore your feelings:
  • What am I feeling in this moment? Can I name the emotion(s)?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how intense is this feeling right now?
  • Where do I notice this feeling in my body? Any tightness, aches, lightness?
  • Did something specific trigger this emotion? A situation, event, interaction?
  • Is this feeling familiar or does it remind me of emotions I’ve had in the past?
  • What thoughts or beliefs might be fueling this emotion? Are they accurate and helpful?
  • What core needs of mine might this feeling be pointing to? What is it trying to tell me?
  • Is there an unresolved conflict or issue tied to this emotion? What might help resolve it?
  • What actions does this emotion make me want to take? Are they wise choices?
  • How do I typically handle this feeling when it arises? Is this response serving me well?
  • What healthy outlets could help me express this emotion constructively?
  • How can I offer compassion and understanding to myself in this moment?
  • What is one small step I can take to care for myself through this?
  • How do I feel after processing? Lighter, calmer, more clarity?


After you fully feel an emotion, take some breaths to return to a calm state before reflexively acting. Actively ask yourself - what understanding or insight did this feeling provide?

Step 5: What to do after you feel feelings

After you fully feel an emotion, take some breaths to return to a calm state before reflexively acting. Actively ask yourself – what understanding or insight did this feeling provide? What is the message or lesson in it for me? Growth happens when we make meaning from our emotions rather than just venting them. If your feeling pointed to an unmet need or exposed a conflict, strategize constructive steps to fulfill the need or resolve the issue. Make a plan to channel the energy in a wise direction. If additional processing is required, be compassionate with yourself and allow more space and time internally. Processing is nonlinear.

Shame has no place after feeling emotions – they are messages, not judgments. If emotions feel overwhelming still, consider speaking with a therapist or trusted friend. They can offer valuable perspective. Afterwards, engage in activities that uplift you like hobbies, exercise, time in nature. Renewing your spirit after emotional work recharges you. 

If you're chronically disconnected from your emotions..

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Why is it so hard to feel my emotions?

Feelings – we all have them, yet many of us were never taught how to handle them. For countless people, identifying, feeling, and expressing emotions does not come naturally. Despite being fundamental to the human experience, our inner world remains uncharted territory.

Childhood Conditioning Around Feelings

Our upbringing plays a pivotal role in how comfortably we navigate emotions as adults. If our caregivers reacted harshly to displays of feeling as a child, it trains us to avoid and repress our emotional side. Strict authoritarian families often imprint this avoidance because feelings appear chaotic to them. Growing up without nurturing and empathetic mirroring of our emotions makes it harder to develop emotional intelligence. Past experiences of punishment for expressing feelings understandably conditions us to bury them within.

Fear of Vulnerability in Facing Emotions

Truly feeling our emotions requires allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Exposing inner wounds or unresolved pain can feel frightening and unsafe. Those with a strong inner critic or intense self-judgment often resist emotional awareness to avoid this vulnerability. Many fear that feeling angry, sad or afraid will mean they are weak. But in fact, the opposite is true — embracing our emotions demonstrates courage and strength. 

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Beliefs That Feelings Are Irrational

Some common perspectives depict emotions as indulgent, pointless or irrational. Traditional masculine paradigms label feelings as a feminine weakness. In intellectual or academic spaces, emotions are sometimes seen as unsophisticated. Some mistakenly view feelings as the opposite of logical reasoning. However, modern psychology recognizes emotions as carrying vital information about our boundaries, values and unmet needs. Both modes of understanding deserve integration.

Lack of Practice and Emotional Skills

To become fluent in the language of feelings simply takes practice, which many lack. If no one modeled emotional awareness as we grew up, how do we learn it? Without tools and experience in constructively feeling and releasing emotions, it’s easy for them to pile up and overwhelm us over time. Unpacking the layered meanings in our feelings requires dedication to building emotional intelligence. This capacity can be cultivated through committing to consistent self-reflection around emotions.

Trauma and Past Intense Emotions

For those who endured intense emotions or trauma earlier in life, shutting down emotionally can feel essential to coping. Emotional wounds from events like abuse, neglect, violence, or loss often cause people to bury feelings to survive. In these cases, professional counseling is hugely beneficial to process old traumas in a safe, guided space. Past pain doesn’t have to define our relationship to emotions forever.

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6 Signs that you don't feel feelings

Emotions tell us about our needs, values, and boundaries. Yet many of us have been conditioned to tune out this inner compass. Realizing when you are disconnecting from your feelings is the first step to changing this pattern. Here are common signs your emotional awareness may be lacking:

You Feel Easily Overwhelmed

Do you regularly get flooded by emotions that feel unmanageable? Does your reaction feel out of proportion to the trigger? Bottling up feelings over time can cause them to spill out uncontrollably when a stressor occurs. Like a pressure cooker with too much steam, suppressed emotions eventually explode. Getting frequently overwhelmed by disproportionate emotions indicates you are not processing feelings as they come up in daily life. 

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You're On Autopilot

When you heavily rely on routine or structure as a shield to evade confronting emotions, it’s a common strategy. You might find comfort in following a strict schedule or immersing yourself in repetitive tasks, using them as a shield from underlying feelings that might be uncomfortable or challenging to face. This reliance on routine offers a sense of predictability and control, creating a safety net that shields you from the unpredictable terrain of your emotions. It’s a coping mechanism—a way to keep emotions at bay by focusing on the familiarity and predictability of routine rather than delving into the complexity of feelings.

However, while routine provides a sense of stability, it can also become a barrier to emotional exploration and growth. Relying solely on structure to shield yourself from emotions might prevent you from fully understanding and addressing what lies beneath the surface. Recognize when routine becomes a mechanism of avoidance, and consciously explore your emotions, allowing yourself the opportunity to navigate and process them for a more holistic sense of well-being.

You Feel Disconnected From Others

When you’re not fully connected with your emotions, a sign is the disconnection you might feel from others. Relationships start feeling transactional, lacking the emotional depth that fosters genuine connection. You might find it challenging to empathize with others or comprehend their emotions, leading to a sense of isolation and loneliness. This emotional disconnect can create a barrier in forming deep connections, impacting the quality of relationships and leaving you feeling detached from meaningful emotional exchanges.

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You Have Somatic Symptoms That Don't Have Medical Causes

When you’re not fully in touch with your emotions, your body often becomes a messenger, signaling what your inner world might not express. Pay attention to physical cues, such as persistent tension, headaches, unexplained fatigue, or disruptions in sleeping patterns. These bodily signals serve as indicators of underlying suppressed emotions attempting to surface. While your emotional world might seem muted, these physical manifestations are your body’s way of signaling distress. Acknowledging these signs allows you to tune into your body’s language, urging you to explore and address the emotions you might be unconsciously suppressing.

You Pack Your Schedule To Distract Yourself

When you’re not fully engaging with your emotions, one telling sign is the tendency to seek constant distractions as a means of escaping from your emotional world. You might notice yourself consistently seeking external stimulation, whether it’s through excessive work, gaming, shopping, social activities, prolonged periods of television, endless scrolling on social media, or even turning to substances. These distractions serve as an attempt to evade confronting the emotional terrain within you. These external stimuli provide a fleeting sense of relief from the discomfort of facing your own emotions.

This pattern of seeking escape through distractions can become a habitual way of avoiding emotional introspection. You might find that these external sources of stimulation provide a momentary sense of satisfaction or numbness, offering a temporary reprieve from confronting deeper emotional issues. However, this reliance on external distractions only perpetuates the emotional void within.

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The "Shoulds" Rule the Day

Your inner dialogue is dominated by stringent rules of “shoulds” and “musts.” Your thoughts and decisions revolve around societal expectations, obligations, or imposed standards, leaving minimal space for spontaneous joy or genuine excitement. It’s as if a rigid set of rules governs your every action, dictating what you believe you ought to do rather than what you authentically desire. This inner dialogue might steer you toward constantly seeking external validation or striving for unattainable ideals, drowning out your true emotional experiences and desires.

Feeling consistently driven by external pressures and societal norms might overshadow your own inner compass, creating a disconnection from your genuine desires and emotional fulfillment. Your actions and decisions might align more with meeting external expectations rather than connecting with what truly brings you joy and fulfillment. This internal conflict between conforming to external expectations and honoring your authentic self can lead to a sense of emotional dissonance and a lack of alignment with your true emotions. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla is a therapist, psychoanalyst, and the practice owner of Imagine Emotional Wellness, a culturally responsive online therapy practice in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC. 

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