Let’s talk about feelings! How you experience them, how you invite or reject them, how you regulate them, and how you feel about feeling them… never any shortage of material when it comes to emotions.
First, how you experience feelings. The way in which you experience emotions is as unique as each individual. The way that your friend Suzie experiences sadness, anger, happiness, etc. is not the right or wrong experience- it is her experience. Your experience of these emotions is yours. It is not one size fits all, and this is not a place for comparison.
Also, this experience is multilayered. There are physical sensations, mental components, and, naturally, emotional components. These parts are not necessarily created equal, and you will probably find that some emotions carry a greater physical or mental component than others. Notice what the different components are for you; knowing the way in which you experience an emotion can help you identify the emotion when you are feeling uncertain, lost, or overwhelmed with feeling.
2. Secondly, how do you invite or reject emotions? I know, it can feel scary to lean in to an emotion such as sadness or anger or anxiety. Many people fear that leaning in will mean that the emotion will overcome them, or that leaning in will result in feeling that emotion forever. I know these fears, and I also know that you are strong enough to face emotion and that an emotion will not persist with the same intensity forever. Leaning into a particularly overwhelming feeling may be something that you work on with a therapist- in a safe environment in which you can be supported in moving through an emotion and moving out of that emotion. Rejecting emotions does not make them go away. I cannot stress this enough. If you doubt this, ask yourself how often telling yourself “stop feeling sad” has actually resulted in you no longer feeling sad. (Yes, I know there are nuances with this, as there are in all things.)
3. This brings me to the third point. How do you regulate emotions? Are you gentle with yourself, or are you critical and dismissive? Attempting to regulate an emotion with a critical and harsh voice often leads to greater discomfort and greater suffering. You don’t have to bully yourself into getting through the emotion. Think of how you react differently depending on the way and style others approach you- you will respond differently to someone that approaches you with an open and welcoming attitude versus someone who comes charging in like a bull in a china shop.
4. Lastly, how do you feel about feelings? Think of it this way. You have an initial feeling; often times this feeling is not necessarily something that you purposefully or consciously chose at that moment. You then have a reaction to this feeling; this may be a thought or an action, or maybe another emotion. You will then have a feeling and/or thought about the way in which you reacted. It is at this point that you can chose a critical or curious response. You can beat yourself up for what has already transpired- that, to me, does not sound that enjoyable or that productive. You can also practice acceptance of what has occurred and then explore it with curiosity. Perhaps you would like to have a different experience in the future- be curious and ask questions about how and why the emotional experience transpired as it did. You’re not adding on suffering, and you are also giving yourself the opportunity for change and growth in the future.
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Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.