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How to Feel Emotions (because most of us were never taught)

How to Feel Emotions

I want to have a heart-to-heart today because I think that – while I’ve mentioned it a couple times in previous posts here – I don’t think if I’ve ever told you exactly what I believe when it comes to emotions. Here it is:

Everything you feel is valid. [tweet it]

People who struggle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addiction tend to feel things VERY deeply… which isn’t an issue in and of itself. The issues come when we judge our emotions or refuse to feel them.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

I shouldn’t feel this way.

Why can’t I just stop it?

Come on, suck it up. Don’t be weak.

People who are the way I want to be don’t feel like this.

Get your sh** together!

Shut up. You’re so stupid.

You have no right to feel like this.

When we invalidate or judge our own emotions, we strip them of their ability to teach us.

Uncomfortable emotions like sadness, hurt, grief, or anger come to us as smoke signals from the body and brain. They are signs that something is out of alignment in or around you. They don’t just appear out of nowhere and they definitely don’t happen because of some “weakness” within you.

Many of us were taught that emotions are things to be hidden. We heard words like “crybaby.” We learned that raw anger was “crazy.” We were judged and punished for our feelings. 

And so we learned to not deal… which led us to an inability to cope with emotions as they come… which led us into mental illness, addiction and even physical problems.

Everyone feels emotions. What creates true emotional endurance is what we do and think when they come to us.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel. It’s the most particular thing in the world. That said, there are habits that we super-feelers (depressives, anxious, disordered eaters or addicts) perform that make recovery nearly impossible:

  1. Judging our emotions negatively.
  2. Suppressing our emotions.

Either of these habits is bound to make your recovery incredibly difficult if not altogether impossible. To help you break them, I want to share with you my personal process to handling the discomfort of feeling.

When I feel emotional, I check in with myself with a few questions:

1. What happened?

This question makes me aware of any triggers that might have set me off, which helps me deal with them more directly should they ever happen again. It also helps me be objective about the situation if I immediately start to judge myself for the emotion.

2. What are the thoughts/beliefs that don’t align with my Truth (this, I believe, is the main cause of uncomfortable emotions)?

Pinpointing the thoughts I’m having about what happened can lead me into a better understanding of any old beliefs or thoughts that no longer serve me. This question is the first step to healing them.

3. What story am I telling myself (if any) about what it means to feel this way?

This is one of the most difficult, yet critical questions to answer. Many of us have developed connections between our self-worth and things that have nothing to do with our self-worth. For instance, many of us feel like we’re only worthy if we look a certain way or have a certain job. Neither of those things has anything to do with how worthy you are as a human being.

In this same regard, we tell ourselves a story about what it means to feel certain emotions. Common ones are:

  • hurt = crybaby, thin skin, un-manly
  • anger = lack of control, difficult or crazy
  • disappointment = pessimism
  • fear = weakness

If I catch myself telling these stories, I can externalize them and recognize that they’re just stories, not the truth. I remind myself that the strongest people on this Earth feel these things, too.

Then, I’ll accept…

It took a long time for me to get here, but now I truly believe that there is a place for every emotion and that it is totally ok to feel them.

If you’re not there yet, I understand. It takes some getting used to.

If you want freedom from the power of the super-feels, acceptance is a crucial step.

In the past, I’d hold onto emotion after traumatizing events by questioning why they’d happened to me and refusing to accept that they had happened. By doing this, I trapped myself in emotion that was demanding to be felt because I refused to face it. All because I thought it wasn’t fair, that I shouldn’t have to deal with it.

What I’ve found from my years of recovery, however, was that consciously working on acceptance of the event – doesn’t matter how big or how small – helped me to release the hold the event had over me.

Things happen in our lives that aren’t fair. It sucks and it hurts and it can seem like there’s no law or order to it. We can either fight against what we can’t control, or we can accept, learn about ourselves through the experience and grow.

…& reframe.

The acceptance makes way for the reframe. Reframing is a term used in therapy that more or less means that we take focus away from the judgment or shaming that we’re doing to ourselves, and place it on a thought or belief that serves us instead.

For instance, if I found that I’m telling myself I shouldn’t feel a certain way because I feel like I should be past that by now with all my recovery, I’ll reframe it to one of these:

  • “Emotions come no matter how recovered you are. You’re a human being and so you deserve the space to feel this.”
  • “You have accomplished so much. Emotions don’t mean you’re sliding backward; they’re opportunities to move forward.”
  • “Somewhere along the line, you learned that recovery is perfection. You know perfection doesn’t exist. Can you be loving to yourself now, and allow yourself to have this experience?”

By shifting my focus to a thought or belief that serves me (instead of drains me of diminishes my existence), I give myself permission to have the emotional experience.

Next, I’ll purposefully allow myself to feel the emotion.

Let it out, Loves. I know it’s scary. I know it’s the most uncomfortable feeling in the world.

This step is where a lot of us get caught or give up entirely. Most of us have been taught to just “suck it up” and move on, but that just packs it down.

Emotions demand to be felt. If you don’t consciously allow the feeling, they will find a way to make themselves known.

Suppressed emotions become or worsen the very maladies we’re here to overcome: depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addiction. They directly lead to their creation or strengthening.

If you truly want to take back the power in your life from any of these issues, train yourself to be ok with not being ok. Let the emotion move through you so it doesn’t stay in you and become something worse. [tweet it]

It helps me to also use this mantra: “It’s ok for me to feel this.” Say it over and over again until the emotion has moved through.

Lastly, I’ll ask myself what this came to teach me.

After I’ve done all the hard work of checking in and feeling the feels, I have the opportunity to grow from this experience.

I believe that everything happens for a reason, even the most awful things. This is my religion.

When I look for the lesson, I allow myself to move forward from it.

Sometimes, the lesson won’t be clear until years down the road, but simply acknowledging that the lesson is coming is enough for me to let. it. goooooo.

Want a real life example of this? Check out this post.

I’ll leave you with this…

You can feel emotions however you choose to feel emotions. It’s your life. If you want freedom from them, if you want your power back from those diagnoses, then you may consider trying this process, too.

It won’t happen overnight, but you’re worth the work this takes.

Feel on, Love. That’s what we humans do.

Stay strong,

Amy

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3 responses to “How to Feel Emotions (because most of us were never taught)”

  1. Heather Norton says:

    “I am okay with not being okay” – I love this! I definitely think you should make printable that has these steps on them. <3

  2. Karen Olson says:

    Thank you for your vulnerability, openness and condor. I listen and connect with you more because you’re willing to spill it all out. Your growth is apparent and inspires me.

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