“I like to cry. It’s an emotion that not many people feel comfortable with. I sometimes cry to feel and understand my emotions. To process all of the stimulation and intensity the world can give.”
My guy friend responded, “Oh me too. It can be so freeing, but for so many is attributed with shame…especially as a man. I cry all the time.”
Neither of us was speaking in relation to specific events. We both wanted to talk about the question I asked my partner the other night, “Have you ever just sat in your emotion? Like, sat with it and just felt it out?”
“Have you ever just sat in your emotion? Like, really sat with it and just felt it out?”
Learning how to “feel your feelings” is hard work. I will recognize that.
The hardest part of learning to feel our feelings is that societally we find ways to numb. It is human nature to move away from what feels terrible as a survival mechanism and find what makes us feel good whether that be through sex, alcohol, Instagram, or painkillers. Americans are no rookies when it comes to leveraging dopamine to avoid pain. We want to feel seen, we want to be liked, and we all need to feel deeply connected to others around us. Think about FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out. Or now there is also, JOMO. The Joy Of Missing Out. No matter what we choose, we want to share in that experience with others.
But do you feel these joys or fears? Mainly, we joke about them and then find a way to minimize our focus on what the feelings mean to us. When you sit alone in that space and see other people actively living, what do you feel? Alone? At peace? Relaxed? Isolated? Envious? Sad? How much of it do you allow yourself to feel before shying away to a new distraction like Netflix or YouTube? How often do you sit in stillness and understand these emotions? If you are anything like me at the age of 25, I avoided them. At the age of 30, I am still imperfect, but have gotten a lot better about journaling or laying down in bed (when I can) to process emotions before jumping into the next activity.
My guess, is that there are days you feel a lot of your emotions and other days that you avoid them altogether. My second guess is that you exist somewhere on the spectrum between feeling and numbing. That isn’t abnormal. That is normal in our culture because from the time of a young age; we are taught not to cry or show these emotions in public. Children are hushed continuously from expression. So what do you think happens as an adult? You learn to silence yourself with distractions instead of feeling and expressing.
Feeling your feelings as I mentioned before, is hard to do. Similar to meditation, emotional processing requires a level of patience and ambiguity that can feel daunting. Sitting in joy can be almost orgasmic and warm. Sitting in pain can feel as extreme as the flu or a bad cold. Learning not only to name emotions but feel them takes time and practice. We must unlearn all of the voices that tell us to quiet or hide the feelings we have. We must learn to sit still.
We must learn to sit still.
That’s right, the first part of feeling your emotions is recognizing what they feel like, which means sitting still long enough actually to hear your body speaking to you. When you feel anxious, where does it rest? Do you feel intense tightness in your shoulders or at the base of your neck? When you feel anger, do you feel your face flush a crimson color of red? Or what about sadness, maybe feeling it in your pelvis or chest? I know that when I feel sad, my nose burns as if I have already inhaled the salt from my tears. I know that when I am anxious, my shoulders tighten shut like elevator doors around my neck. I know that when I feel rejected or disrespected, my lungs feel as if they are collapsing inward.
We all learn to feel these emotions in time, but for many years, you, like me, may have run from the experience instead of standing in it. So how do you feel your feelings?
- Stop and pause in the emotion when you have it. Take note of where the sensation builds.
- Look around either in the environment or inside your thoughts to understand the trigger. Where could this trigger stem from?
- Do you recognize this physical response from other situations?
- Breathe into it. Don’t try to stop it. Feel it even if only until the count of three.
- State what you feel out loud (under your breath is okay too) to recognize it’s validity.
- Look forward. Inhale deeply one to two times and exhale.
- Say out loud or in your head the following, “I am not my emotion. I understand what I feel as it passes thru me.”
- Answer the question, “What is this feeling teaching me?”
I hope these tools guide you on a journey to feeling and being in your state of truth without judgment. Remember to hold compassion for yourself in the process and invite people into your life that allow you to practice.