If you want to learn how to feel your feelings, there are some practical exercises you can do to learn how to do that. Also, if you want to become more emotionally intelligent, you’ve got to be able to know what you’re feeling. This is not the same as knowing why you’re feeling that way (insight) or knowing what to do about it…that’s important too …. but knowing how to feel your feelings is really important. It’s like starting where you’re standing.
How To Feel Your Feelings
Many people don’t know what they’re feeling, they literally can’t tell you what emotion they’re having. You might feel numb, or disconnected, or you can’t tell the difference between thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Some people just don’t have the words for emotions. A lot of people intellectualize- they try to think their way out of feelings.
When you don’t know what you are feeling, you often feel a sense of powerlessness. You might feel confused, or be reactive to emotions that you can’t identify. When you know what you’re feeling, you can choose what to do with those feelings, and you’ll have a greater sense of peace and control in your life.
So how do you feel your feelings? What do you do when you don’t know what you’re feeling?
In this article, I’m going to teach you 4 ways to tune into your emotions, and these are things I use all the time in therapy to help my clients get better at feeling.
1. Get Into Your Body To Feel Your Feelings
OK, let’s learn by doing. Try this weird thing with me. Go ahead and do a wall sit. Go ahead, get up, find a wall, press your back on it, try to put your legs at a 90 degree angle and hold it. If you don’t have a wall just hold a squat.
You didn’t think that we were just going to intellectualize about this did you?
Your body holds your feelings, your body is the receptacle of your emotions
Your physical sensations are key to understanding what you’re feeling.
So here’s how we practice.
Close your eyes and get into your body.
What sensation are you feeling in your legs? What does it feel like? Pretend you’re a curious scientist who has never felt that feeling before, how would you describe it. Hot? Cold? Stabbing? Throbbing, pulsing? Comfortable? Notice where you feel tight or loose.
We’re not going to use judging words here- not bad or good, not wonderful or terrible, instead we’re describing.
What’s going on with your breathing? Just notice it. Don’t try to change your breathing, just notice it.
What’s going on with your hands? With your face? Just notice it.
If you can keep going, keep going, if not take a break but keep listening to your body. If you notice your mind wandering, come back to the present moment.
Getting out of your head and into your body is an essential skill for feeling your feelings. Feelings are fundamentally physical.
This is why Yoga can be such a powerful treatment for depression, anxiety and trauma, because yoga invites you to be present with your body, to create space for a whole bunch of sensations – facing discomfort with courage, but also with awareness and remembering to breathe.
OK, go ahead and sit back down.
I believe that our physical sensations are the anchor for our emotions.
Dr. Becky from Good Inside says: “At the core, anxiety is the state of being uncomfortable in your body. Not feeling at home in yourself and wanting to be anywhere else. It’s the fear of a feeling, and it’s only a problem when your rules say you can’t have it.”
So learning to sit with your physical sensations is the first rule to feeling your feelings.
As my clients are learning to sit with physical sensations, I encourage them to use 4 principles from mindfulness to get better at feeling their feelings:
- A Beginner’s Mind– that’s just about being curious and observing your experience
- Non-Judgment– that’s describing instead of labeling. So instead of saying “It’s terrible to feel this sad!” you describe the feeling, you might say “This sadness is uncomfortable, it’s heavy, it hurts so much.”
- Non-Striving– That’s just being where you’re at. Not trying to immediately change what you are experiencing right now, but instead allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling without trying to force it to go away. You give yourself grace. You’re not “feeling your feelings so that they can go away” You’re feeling your feelings so that you can be present with yourself. Drop the war with your own body.
- Present moment awareness – you try to be here in the present moment- instead of escaping by dwelling on the past or worrying about the future or even dreaming about the future. Feeling your feelings is learning to stop running and sit with yourself.
So when big emotions come up, you create space for them by getting into your body, opening yourself up, slowing down, and allowing yourself to experience what you’re feeling.
There’s a couple other ways that you can practice this skill of getting into your body- mindful exercise, mindful eating, and a meditation like the body scan exercise.
2. Therapy Prompts To Help You Feel Your Feelings
OK, now I’m going to teach you two things a therapist would do in session to help you feel your feelings. You know the old therapist trope “How does that make you feel?” I almost never say that in session. But I do say two phrases all the time. The first is “Where do you notice that in your body”.
So someone is going off on this intense emotional description about their boss at work or their rude child or their mother in law. And they’ve been talking for ten minutes about all the problems this person is causing in their lives and I’m listening, and I care, AND I know that to move forward, we have to ask these two questions- Where do you notice that in your body? The answer might sound like:
“I feel tight in my stomach. My hands are cold”
“I feel red in the face. My throat is tight”
“I feel frozen, locked up, like I just want to curl up in a ball”
And the second question: Can you use an emotion word?
My client might say:
I just feel like they’re so rude and disrespectful! – me, Can you use an emotion word? They never listen to my ideas? That must be frustrating? Can you use an emotion word? I feel angry? That’s an emotion word. Yeah, you feel angry. Remember anger is usually a secondary emotion, is there something more sensitive under that? I feel afraid. What are you afraid of? That I’m inadequate. I feel…helpless?
3. Use An Emotions List To Feel Your Feelings
So this is where the next resource comes in – an emotions chart– using a list of emotions can be really helpful.
The process of feeling your feelings is really interesting, because it asks you to pendulate back and forth, from your sensations, to your words, to your feelings and images. Emotions are a whole body whole brain experience, so imagine shifting from one foot to the other- sensations, words.
So grab an emotions chart- google one or use my free download…explore it for a word that seems to fit.
Write it down. Tell someone. make it concrete.
4. Body Map Exercise To Feel Your Feelings
Now that we’ve gone through words, let’s try another exercise- this is a great one from art therapy. Grab a piece of paper, get some art supplies, draw the outline of a body, and use colors, shapes, or textures to make a body map of your emotions. I’m going to pop up some examples of this for you to see, but this is such a great little activity to help you feel your feelings.
So what does this do for us? When we identify a feeling in our body, we validate it. We say, “yes I am feeling this”. And because emotions are messengers for us, because emotions are often trying to tell us something, when we notice and name them, they don’t have to keep shouting at us to deliver their message. They often resolve just by being acknowledged.
You Can Learn The Skill Of Feeling Your Feelings
You can learn the skill of feeling your feelings. It’s a practical tool that you can use to gain more awareness, and thereby more control over your emotions. I hope this can help you get better at feeling. If you’d like, you can download the emotions wheel in the link in the description below, or take my course “How To Process Emotions” in the link below. Thanks for all the work you’re doing, take care.