I have a question for you.
"How are you feeling right now?"
Many people have no idea, or provide an automatic response like, "I'm feeling good, I'm fine."
If you have difficulties with knowing how you feel, you are not alone.
There are many reasons why you may not be able to easily identify what you are feeling - including the fact that many people who ask you how you are feeling, don't really care! It's just a societal nicety to get out of the way.
But knowing how you are feeling IS important.
Combined with knowing what you are thinking and identifying what your body is experiencing, it's one of the key ways you make sense of the world around you. This awareness is a part of living a more mindful life and taking responsibility for your overall self-care.
Below are five habits or behaviours that might be getting in the way for you understanding what you are feeling. Note, I do not discuss trauma in this article, or anxiety and other mental health conditions that can cause difficulties in accessing emotions. The five habits discussed are behaviours and habits that everyone can fall into with realising it.
5 feelings habits or behaviours
The first is DISTRACTION. There are so many things that distract us and take us out of ourselves on a day-to-day basis, not the least being, the 24 hour digital world we live in. Whether it be social media, watching YouTube videos, Netflix or Foxtel, there's so much you can tune into any second of the day and never have to be alone with yourself, your thoughts and your feelings. Distraction is a huge blockage that can get in the way of knowing how you really feel.
Did you know that the statistics around how often people pick up their phone is amazing. It’s about once every five or 10 minutes. And the number of people who, the first thing they do in the morning is not check in with themselves, but check in with what random people are doing on Facebook or Instagram. Hands up if you can relate to either of these things. I know I definitely get hooked into this from time to time.
The next three obstacles I’m grouping together and calling them REASONS. This covers justification, blame and shame. In these situations you can identify what you are feeling but you are stepping into your logical mind instead of allowing yourself the experience.
In JUSTIFICATION you are explaining your feelings. For example. “Oh, I'm feeling pretty tired, but I didn't sleep real well. And you know, maybe if I've gone to bed early or I wouldn't feel quite so tired” or “I'm feeling okay today, but you know, I had time to myself and I was able to go for a walk and unlike other days where I don't get that sort of time”.
BLAME is when you are attributing your feelings to what someone else did. For example, “I'm feeling really angry and it's your fault because you cut me off” or “it's your fault because you didn't do the dishes”. “I'm feeling really frustrated because they didn't ring me when they were supposed to”. So your emotion is all about what someone else did to you.
I'm not saying some of these things didn't happen and some of them might not have contributed to your frustration or your anger or your happiness or whatever you're feeling. However, allowing yourself to go down this train of thought is taking you away from what you are feeling right now and interfering with your ability to experience that emotion fully.
The next reasoning obstacle is SHAME.
When you experience shame you tend to dismiss your feelings as being invalid. “I shouldn't be feeling sad. I've got no reason to feel sad”. “Oh, I shouldn't be feeling jealous”, or “I shouldn't be feeling happy. I don't really deserve to feel happy because I'm such a bad person”. Whatever the reason is, wherever that shame comes from, it's getting in the way.
After you have worked on increasing your awareness of what you are feeling, the last of the five habits that interfere with accessing the power of your feelings, is IGNORING THE MESSAGE.
Feelings as messengers
The role of your emotions is to give you messages. The most immediate and direct message is one of self-preservation. They want to keep you alive, to protect you. Think anxiety and the flight, fight, freeze response. Secondary to this though are feedback as to whether or not you are living the life that YOU want to be living.
To explain feelings as messengers a little more, let's take a closer look at happiness.
If you're feeling happy, you are receiving a message that you're content, that you're doing things that are important to you, that you have people around you who, who matter. You are receiving positive feedback.
If you're feeling angry, that's great information too. You are realising that something is not right here. There may be an injustice you want to fix. There is something in your life that you want to change.
Guilt - you have done something inconsistent with your value system. Frustration - something is getting in the way of you pursuing things that are important to you.
If you are dismissing your emotions, you are losing information that is necessary for you to live the life YOU want. Just as an over reliance on some emotions, such as anxiety, despair, anger can result in unhelpful behaviours such as violence and withdrawl, an under response is equally damaging.
The above is just the tip of the iceberg of how connecting with your feelings can help you identify what you need to act on so that you are living a life consistent with your values.
If you are locked out of your emotions, or you are trying to justify or deny them, you are less likely to hear those messages. And that's going to interfere once again with your ability to lead a calm and confident, connected life.
If this is a new concept for you, that's OK, you can work on this.
If you're serious about connecting with yourself, understanding what is important to you in your life, working out how you want to live, and the sort of person you want to be; if you want to feel comfortable being yourself, if you want to develop inner calm connection and confidence, YOU NEED to know how YOU are feeling.
What to do
Eg "I feel worried that my child won't have anyone to play with today. But that's OK, he knows he can go to the teacher, so I shouldn't worry". The feeling is worried. The whole thing is a thought. What comes after 'but that's OK" is some shame mixed in with dismissal.
Mixing your feelings in with your thoughts is normal. Practice isolating the feeling. Restate what you just said.
"I notice I'm feeling worried."
When you isolate a feeling from a rush of thoughts, you create a pause. In this pause is the calm, in this pause is the choice. Do you want to look closer at why you are feeling worried right now? Do you want to reduce the size of this feeling (is it overwhelming)? Do you want to act on the underlying reason for this worry, right now, later? Is this a new feeling for you, or a recurring pattern? Is this feeling getting in the way of you doing something important?
Eg. "I feel happy that my children are playing so well together. We should do this more often".
Happiness is the feeling identified. The thought gives an explanation or justification, and then your mind goes to future planning.
Restate the feeling
"I am feeling happy". Take a moment to sit with the feeling and soak it in.
In this pause receive the affirmation that what is happening right now is what is important to you. It's like putting a rubber stamp on your soul. Rather than rushing ahead to what to do in the future to ensure that this happens again, allow yourself to enjoy the moment.
These two examples above of course only touch on the power behind your feelings. The power to protect, enhance, and guide you on the path to live the life YOU want,
Until next time, take care of yourself.
ps If you experience the distraction of this 24 hour digital world and would like some help in switching it off, I have created a 7 Step Digital Detox Guide to help you create some time and space for yourself where you can get rid of one of those distractions.
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy.. If you are experiencing stress please contact your GP or mental health professional.
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.