Let’s get one thing straight from the outset: The emotions you experience are not “yours!”
Emotions seem like they belong to us because we alone experience them, but they really arise in us. Emotions are messengers. They come to offer a message about how to navigate our life. Which emotions reveal themselves is based on what we believe, our experiences, and our challenges.
Emotions need to be felt, experienced and recognized, so we can read, understand and use the message they bring to us.
Emotions are felt in our body. We need, therefore, to spend time in our body in order to experience the emotions that arise in us.
Most of us learned to live in our brain. “What are your thoughts?” we ask. As a psychotherapist, most often when I have asked someone “What are you feeling?” I have received this as a reply: “I feel that …” It’s already clear the response is not going to be a feeling. It’s a thought!
“I feel afraid.” “I feel angry.” “I feel frustrated.” “I feel very happy.” This is how our reply starts off when we are connected to feelings. Subject, verb, adjective. Emotions do not need to go through our head. We know them as they pass through our body.
Emotions need to move. They are energy e-motions, better known as energy in motion.
Too many people have been taught to stuff feelings, holding them inside and thinking they’re no longer there. This is very dangerous because emotions held inside, grow. Anger becomes rage; fear becomes terror; guilt freezes us; jealousy leads to paranoia. Held onto long enough, some emotions can even kill us.
Develop patterns of looking for emotions! Emotions accompany an experience. Therefore, any time you have an experience, you can find the accompanying emotions by asking this question: “What am I feeling right now?” Emotions happen in the present moment. The only time we have power is in the present. Feeling emotions helps us develop our power, as they tell us what action to take, now.
“What am I feeling right now?” Sit quietly and listen. Pinpoint the part of your body in which you are feeling emotion. Put your hand on that spot.
When we feel fear, our hands instinctively go to our chest—the part of the body where we register fear. We literally “choke on anger,” so you’ll find anger in the throat. When we are manipulated, we can feel a knot or a tingling in our solar plexus. We share human patterns, yet each person is also unique. Look for where particular emotions arise in your body.
Once you find them, let them come foreground and take the time to feel the emotions.
Rage, cry, make noise. A great way to do this that doesn’t cause harm to ourselves or others is to get a very large newsprint tablet. Gather different colored crayons. When emotions arise, pick a color and scribble that emotion onto the paper. Fill the paper with scribbles (not drawings!). As you do so, make the noises that come to you when you feel those feelings. Keep doing this until it is all out of you. Destroy the paper completely or take it to an outside refuse container. Get the energy of emotion you released far away from you. Recognize it, let it out, then let it go completely!
If anger arises, a fun and powerful thing to do is what I call “The Gross Out.” Get alone. Think of the person, the experience. Feel the anger that arises from what occurred (or not!), or what has been said. Now, out loud, talk to that person. Share the anger you’re feeling. Do not hold back. In this exercise, you’re free to call names, make accusations, and say hateful things. Nobody will hear you. This exercise allows you to feel and release angry feelings and is not focused on creating change. Keep talking (or yelling!) until it’s all out. (If you live closely with others, you can also do this by talking/yelling into a pillow.)
Sometimes we’re aware of feelings in a particular part of our body, but can’t readily identify them.
In this case, have a conversation with your body. First, place your hand on the part of the body you’re aware of feeling (for example, your stomach). Then, ask aloud: “What are you telling me, stomach?” Whatever response comes up in you, also say it aloud. “I can’t take what this person is dishing out,” your stomach responds. “What can I do about it?” you ask. “Speak up! Tell them you won’t take it anymore. Then, leave!” To the best of your ability, follow that message. (If you don’t get an immediate response, just keep asking and listening. It will come.)
A Few Pointers:
- Get emotions out of you, but not onto others.
- It’s best to experience emotions when you are alone. Sometimes just having someone walk through the room will take your attention away from you and over to them.
- You do not have to do anything with feelings. Just feel them.
- There is no right or wrong with feelings. They just are. Allow them to be that.
- Judgment—particularly self-judgment—has no place with emotions. Emotions are not yours or about you; they are messengers. Just listen to them. You always have a choice about following their message.
How to know and follow the message a particular feeling brings will have to be discussed in a future article. For more information, watch for the release of my forthcoming book, Emotions in Motion, to be announced on my website.
Once you have allowed yourself to feel the feelings that arise in you, allow yourself to feel grateful for having such a readily-available, reliable internal mentor as the feelings that are dedicated to helping you navigate a successful life. Gratitude is the Law of Increase.
When you are grateful for the emotions that come up, your ability to access, feel, and work with feelings will automatically increase!