How can we truly feel our feelings? Here we look at some techniques to help us identify our emotions so we can process them in a healthy way
Do you ever feel full of feelings… but you aren’t quite sure what they are? Perhaps you’re feeling more tearful than usual and the simplest thing sets you off. Or maybe there’s anger simmering, but you don’t know why.
Feeling our feelings should be simple, right? In theory, yes, but sometimes our feelings get trapped under layers of shame, guilt and even denial, making it harder to really identify what’s going on for us. Some of us can also fall into a trap of numbing ourselves to our emotions, using tools like binge-watching TV, scrolling social media, or in some cases abusing substances.
It can seem easier to bury our heads in the sand than deal with our emotions, but when we do this, those emotions fester and turn into something worse. They may stay hidden for a while but, eventually, they pour out (often in unhelpful ways).
Being intentional about identifying our emotions can help us shine a light of awareness on how we’re feeling. It helps us identify and acknowledge our emotions, which ultimately helps us process and understand them. It might not get rid of difficult feelings, but it’s an integral first step to helping us cope better.
So, how can we tap into our emotions? Here are a few ideas to try.
1. Write it out
This is my personal go-to, as someone who’s kept a journal since the age of 13. Writing about how you feel can help you take that tangled web of thoughts and feelings in your mind and put it down on paper. Just the act of putting pen to paper is cathartic to many.
In her article, Getting your thoughts down on paper, writer Katie Conibear shares six prompts to use writing in a therapeutic way.
2. Feel it in your body
Sometimes our emotions present themselves physically, especially if we’re finding it hard to acknowledge or process them. This is something somatic therapy can help with. The approach uses physical techniques and exercises to help you be present in your body and tap into what you’re feeling. Somatic therapy can help with a range of concerns, including anxiety, trauma, chronic pain and depression.
In this video, counsellor Ian Wallace explains what somatic therapy is, including how therapists use the approach in sessions, and how clients may benefit from this type of therapy.
3. Get creative
Taking a more abstract approach to our emotions can sometimes give us the distance we need to tap into them. This is the premise behind many arts therapies and can be very effective. Here are some ideas to get a little creative with:
- Try painting a landscape of how you feel.
- Write a short story about a character who feels the same as you.
- Make a playlist that encapsulates how you feel.
Don’t worry if what comes out doesn’t make much sense at first, keep going and ask yourself what’s drawn you to those colours, plot points or melodies. Allow yourself to gently explore.
4. Watch an emotional film/TV show
Sometimes when I know I have sadness lodged in my chest, but I can’t get it out, I put on a tear-jerker film/TV show (my go-to is Grey’s Anatomy). This often helps to dislodge the sadness as I let the tears flow, crying not only for the characters on screen, but also for myself. Sometimes a storyline can hit deeper than others too, and we can ask ourselves why to investigate our reactions.
5. Start a dialogue
This is another one that falls into the abstract category, but it can be incredibly powerful. Give your emotion a name (any name that feels right) and start talking to it. Some questions you might want to ask could include:
- Why are you here?
- What are you trying to protect me from?
- Who sent you?
- What do you need from me?
Try not to overthink the answers. You might find it helpful to write this down, allowing your pen to keep moving so the responses flow more easily from your subconscious. If you start feeling uncomfortable or distressed, allow yourself to stop. Working through our emotions can be difficult alone and you may benefit from professional support to explore them safely.
6. Talk it through
Verbalising how we feel can be tough, but if we’re speaking to someone we trust in a safe environment, it gets easier. You can do this with a friend or loved one, but sometimes their own emotions can cloud the room. This is why so many people turn to therapy – it’s a safe space to speak with a professional who has the training to help you both identify and process your emotions, developing healthy ways to cope with them day-to-day.
We are wonderfully complex beings with equally complex emotions. Taking the time to recognise when something’s off and investigating our feelings is the ultimate form of self-care. I hope the tools shared here can help you take care of yourself, fully.
If you’d like to explore your emotions with a therapist, you can find one at Counselling Directory.