How well do you express yourself and your feelings? How often do you find yourself holding in your feelings and opinions with others in order to keep the peace at work or to avoid conflict with friends? On an even deeper level, do you have a sense of your emotions and how they show up in your body? I ask these questions because I find that most of us have in some way learned to shut off or ignore our feelings in order to function. To me, this bypassing of feelings cannot happen without consequences. If you’re not able to feel, name, and express how you feel, the energy gets stuck inside you, only to show up in other ways as persistent feelings of anxiety or depression, chronic illness, pain, low self esteem, or issues in relationships. If this sounds like you, take a breath. Believe me that you are not alone in this, it is actually quite common! There are a few things you can start practicing today to start to break this pattern and to get you feeling more ease as you navigate through life.
A good place to start is to bring curiosity and awareness to what is happening in your body. If all you can feel is a sense of uneasiness, tension, and anxiety, we want to slow things down and explore a little deeper. What is happening underneath the anxiety? What most of us don’t know about anxiety and depression is that they often encompass many other feelings happening below the surface. In other words, there are usually many layers of feelings that have gotten “skipped over”, “pushed down”, or “split off” from our awareness. This can be a conscious or unconscious process depending on the individual, their history, and their present circumstances. The truth is that you may be so used to skipping over your feelings that you have no language for what you are feeling and may even feel disconnected from the sensations in your body.
Imagine if you felt hurt or angry with someone in your life, but never got to tell them or express how you felt. What if you never were able to set boundaries with them and your interactions continued to make you upset or uneasy, where do you think those feelings go if you never got to express them out loud? Sure if this happens one or two times maybe you will get over it and let go of or forget about your anger or hurt, but what if this is a pattern of yours? What if this happened everyday within most of your relationships, can you imagine that build up of energy in the body? All the hurt, pain, anger, annoyance, frustration, shame, would get stored up inside. To make matters worse, if you skip over or push down all these feelings, after a while they all get mixed together, and you may not even be able to name each and every situation and feeling that got missed or ignored. How do you think your body would feel if this was your reality?
In the therapy room, it is essential for us to get in touch with the different feelings happening inside of you in order for you to truly feel better. This means putting you back in your body and reconnecting you to that information that your body is telling you. This might mean going back and talking about the painful experiences that you never got to share about or get support with. It might mean learning how to feel and own your anger and allowing yourself to get angry about all the times you felt your boundaries were crossed. It might mean processing the death of a loved one and sitting in the painful feelings of grief and loss without pushing it down or numbing out. The thing about feelings is that shutting them off and compartmentalizing them doesn't actually work in the long run. We must learn to listen inward, connect to our feelings, and develop a new relationship to them where we feel safe and comfortable with the waves of emotions that comes along with being human. This is called building the capacity to feel feelings. Over time and with practice, we learn to notice and recognize feelings as they arise, and we learn what we need to soothe or support ourselves while we are having a particular feeling. This is called building emotional intelligence, and it is essential for us a humans to not only feel good but also to feel content and satisfied with our lives, our relationships, and our connection to ourselves.
I know that you might be reading this and thinking to yourself that you desperately need a change in your life but don’t know where or how to start. Believe me, I too have had that overwhelming realization. Part of the reason I became a therapist is because I believe that we all deserve to understand how we work as humans and to know what we need to do in order to feel better. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you know something is off in your life but you have no idea what it is or how to help yourself to feel better. The truth is many of us have learned that only good feelings like joy and happiness should be expressed, and that hurt, sadness, and anger are better kept behind closed doors. I believe this why most of us feel so alone in our pain. My message to you is that you are not alone in your feelings, and that you do not have to do this alone. Having someone to walk with you who can support you in navigating what you’re going through can bring a sense of ease and clarity to whatever you are feeling now. Remember, you don’t have to have it all figured out in order to begin, just start with one small step in the direction of what you want.