Q&A: What are some ways for me to feel my feelings?
Answer by Georgie Oldfield, MCSP
This is something that a number of my patients ask me and you’re right, intellectualising everything just adds to the inner turmoil and can make things worse. Analysing, intellectualising and rationalising all create internal turmoil and therefore internal resistance, which then just fuels the symptoms.
Therapeutic journaling is about acknowledging how you feel/felt about something that has happened to you in order to then be able to gain perspective and let go so you can move on with your life without the negative impact the issue has been having on you. Many people don’t ‘feel’ anything as they write and/or feel they have already gained perspective as time has passed. Their symptoms however seem to suggest they haven’t actually offloaded the emotional turmoil related to this issue.
On many occasions, as you have found, people journal or talk about some past trauma but don’t actually ‘feel’ the emotion. With some individuals this might be because the trauma was significant and the maladapted ‘fight and flight’ response is working particularly hard in trying to protect you from having to cope with it. However, on many occasions the lack of emotion while journaling can be because this emotional event might well have been neutralised in the past and perception gained. Obviously the memory is still there, but there is no huge emotional charge to deactivate, which indicates that although the individual might have been through significant past trauma, this in itself might not now the primary cause of their pain.
In this case, the more an individual continues to journal and search in their past for the answer to their pain, the more frustration and therefore emotional turmoil they can cause themselves. Although journaling can be hugely effective for many people and I always recommend my patients begin with it, some people also recover without journaling at all. If you find you are journaling to look for an answer and ‘trying’ to find the emotion that is causing your pain, then this intellectualising could actually be adding to your inner turmoil. The more allowing you can be of yourself and this whole process and the less you ‘try’ to recover, the less internal resistance you will cause yourself.
I see many individuals who have reached stalemate because they have journaled, often for months or even years, yet are still suffering. In these cases the cause is more often that the learned nerve pathways have become conditioned and their learned behaviours and beliefs, personality traits etc are the cause of significant daily self-induced stress which is feeding the cycle. Working on these often allows people to progress.
EMOTIONAL AWARENESS EXERCISE
During the day, when you feel an emotion, acknowledge it. Feel the emotion within you and deal with it either then, or when you have time later in the day. i.e. note it, let yourself feel it,and recognise why you are acknowledging it. You might want to rush off a few words about it on a scrap of paper, leave it until later and write more fully in your journal, or just sit quietly with the feeling and acknowledge the emotional feelings that way. The exercise below provides a very brief way to help you acknowledge how you are feeling in any particular moment by sitting quietly for a few minutes to be mindful. This can help you cope better with your reaction to the day to day stresses, stopping them from building up, which can potentially result in symptoms. This strategy can also be a helpful tool to use when your pain escalates or changes in some way, even if you are not sure why, because it allows you take time out to acknowledge how you feel. Exercise: Sit somewhere quietly with as few distractions as possible, then begin with three or four slow deep breaths to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system to calm things down. Sit quietly and allow your focus to rest on your body and how it feels generally. If thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them, but let them pass on by without becoming attached to them. Scan your body, noting how each area feels and consciously letting go of areas that feel tight.
Now allow your attention to go inside your body, observing how you feel in your chest, abdomen and pelvis. Don’t try to change anything, just notice any area that feels tense or different in some way and allow your attention to settle on this area. Just observe it as you would a bird in a tree, allowing it to be there without any resistance. If an emotion bubbles up, allow it to evolve and welcome it, even if you don’t know what it was relating to. You might even find it helpful to allow the emotion to flow out of you each time you breathe out. Finally finish by developing a feeling of compassion and allow this to expand to fill your whole chest and abdomen. Alternatively, imagine a clear, bright, positive white light surrounding you which gradually infiltrates your whole body as it flows into you each time you breathe in. N.B. This is about acknowledging the emotion, rather than understanding and can be effective in even just 2 minutes.
Georgie Oldfield, MCSP
It is important to recognize that no information on this wiki can be considered a specific medical diagnosis, medical treatment, or medical advice. Reading information here does not create a doctor/patient or other professional relationship between you and the answering professional. As always, you should consult with your physicians and counselors regarding new symptoms and any changes that you might make in medications or activities.
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