How to feel your feelings
Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
Because I say things like this a lot:
"The stress response is actually a stress response CYCLE. You have to complete the cycle or else all those stress chemicals just sit around turning sour in your body."
And things like this: "Feelings are like tunnels. You have to go all the way through them to get to the peaceful, calm light at the end."
I therefore get a lot of questions like: "Okay... but how?"
Or: "How can you tell when you're done?"
Or: "Um, what?"
So. Here's a little bit on how to.
There's really two processes, right? There's the process of learning to feel your feelings all the way through in the here and now, and then there's the process of finishing up all those incomplete cycles that have been idling inside you for decades.
And discussing these two things thoroughly is really a book-length endeavor, so how about for now I just talk about one technique?
The most common obstacle I see to people feeling their feelings is negative meta-feelings, that is, how you feel about how you feel.
- You feel angry, and you feel bad and wrong for feeling angry.
- You feel anxious and afraid, and you feel afraid of that fear, worried that it might take over. You feel hurt or jealous or envious, and you feel ashamed and you judge yourself, you feel you SHOULDN'T feel those things.
- You feel joyful, and you feel anxious about that joy, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So start noticing that.
Start noticing how you feel, then consider how you feel about how you feel. Every time you notice yourself berating yourself for your feelings, notice that.
It's tricky at first. Ask your friends to help you out. Tell them you're doing an experiment and you'd like them to point out any time that you say or do something that indicates that your own internal experience is somehow wrong or bad or dangerous. Just have them point it out, without judgment or shame, we don't want to create a cycle of negative meta-meta-feelings!
And when you get pretty good at noticing it, see if you can replace all the judgment and shame and fear with ACCEPTANCE.
Like this: "I feel hurt. And I accept my hurt."
Or: "I feel angry. And I accept my anger."
Or: "I feel joy. And I accept that joy."
Here's a really important point: accepting your feelings doesn't entitle you to DO or SAY anything at all. Being allowed to feel all your feelings does NOT mean being allowed to DO anything you want with them. Feelings are not inherently dangerous in any way; but it's possible to use your feelings as weapons, as ways to control or hurt other people. Don't do that.
Just feel them. Feel them and don't do anything at all. Feel and accept.
When you can do that... well when you can do that, change unlocks itself. You'll see. Give it a try.