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Posts Tagged ‘learning to feel’

Growing up we hear many messages about feelings. Some people are raised in an environment where no expression of feeling is permitted and “rub some dirt on it” is the response for everything. Others are raised in homes where feelings run around as freely as the persons residing there. Neither is healthy.

People have asked me, “How do I learn to just not be angry?” or “What can I do to just get over it?” My answer to those questions has been this, “Anger and other feelings serve a valid purpose in our lives. We don’t want to ‘just get over them.’ We want to feel them, process them, and then be okay with moving on from them. The problem comes when in response to the feeling we behave in an ineffective way.”

Running from or freely throwing around how we feel can cause serious complications in our lives. By avoiding the feeling, we are denying ourselves one of the most important aspects of being human. We are alive and with that comes an array of good and bad feelings in reaction to what is happening around us. Not permitting ourselves to feel leads to a bottling up of feelings that can then be stored out of our consciousness. Those stored feelings of anger, regret, loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety, etc. can eventually reach a point of explosion and the result may be something we are not prepared to handle. I have heard people say, “I don’t know what happened, I just snapped.” I can give you an idea of what happened… You allowed yourself to not feel and built a pile that was bound to come toppling down at some point.

Now, we can also carry our expression of feelings to the extreme which can backfire as easily as not expressing them at all. When feelings are flying around untamed people and things can be damaged. For instance, if your loved one is always sharing his/her feeling about everything that occurs, it can create a barrier in the relationship. A thought can then be created that you must “walk on eggshells” every time you are around that person because that person will certainly let you know how he/she feels. This can sometimes be expressed in physical ways which we all know is not appropriate.

We must learn to notice our feelings – even the ugly ones – feel them and then determine what we are going to do to respond. Are we going to talk with a friend or family member? Are we going to let ourselves cry? Are we going to write about it in a journal? Sometimes our feelings warrant doing nothing more than noticing. Sometimes they just want us to know they are there and to not be judged, but accepted.

Perhaps I use a bit of reverse CBT with clients in that I encourage them to first become aware of the feelings they are experiencing, notice them, but not get stuck in them. After this, I suggest they observe the environment for evidence that supports the feeling while not judging themselves, the feeling, or the process. Once the feeling is brought to awareness and the situation has been explored, they can then back up to discover what the thought was that preceded that feeling. A thought precedes every feeling, but the feelings are often most noticeable because they create a physiological response that is hard to ignore.

If a situation provides evidence that the thought and subsequent feeling are rational, nothing needs to be done. However, if there is little proof to suggest that the thought we are having is a healthy, rational thought given the situation, we must then work to change that thought or our feelings are not going to align well with what’s going on around us. I see this all the time with individuals who struggle with all types of mental health concerns. What happens most often is that the thinking and feelings are not always in line with the events that have occurred.

Regardless, we all must become aware of our feelings and not be afraid to express them in a healthy manner when needed. We must accept that no one is exempt from having feelings. We are all humans with very real feelings, but if we bottle them up or toss them around too lightly, we can be setting ourselves up for situations or problems we then are unsure how to manage.

One more thought… Know that it is never within our control to determine how another person feels. While our actions may contribute to the development of a feeling, it is ultimately the other person’s decision how they choose to feel as a result.

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