It is my experience that most people think like they have a pretty good grasp on what emotions are and what role they play in our lives; however, when asked to describe how they feel, many clients begin by describing their experience rather than their emotional response to the experience.
For example, years ago I had a client who had achieved great financial success but had recently become unemployed. He reached out to me because he did not feel comfortable sharing his fears and anxieties of unemployment with his family. When I asked him to share with me how he was feeling, he began telling me the story of how difficult it was being unemployed. I repeated the question, and asked that he tell me how he felt about being unemployed. He responded by describing how disappointed his wife would be if she found out who he "really" was.
The issue he was struggling with was one that many of us share: we can easily talk about a situation, but find it very challenging to pinpoint how we feel about our experience. There are many reasons we have difficulty expressing our feelings, but they all center around one thing: fear.
Our fears of expressing how we truly feel are ingrained in us from our earliest memories. Remember back to the first time you felt embarrassed, ashamed, or judged by someone. These experiences not only impacted your self-worth, they impacted how you behave in front of others. Often, we shut down, get angry, and blame when we suppress how we truly feel.
While I may not know how or why you suppress your feelings, I do know that when we disguise our true emotions we keep a part of ourselves from those around us. That is the biggest price we pay for hiding, avoiding, or disguising our feelings; we fall out of connection with ourselves and those around us. The only way to rebuild those connections is to acknowledge our feelings and let go of our fear.
Learning To Own Our Feelings
First, let's consider what emotions really are: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.
It is important to understand that emotions are instinctive responses to our circumstances. We do not judge ourselves when our doctor taps our knee and our leg kicks up; it is a natural reflex. Similarly, we must accept our feelings as reflexes to our environment. Our feelings do not define us any more than our leg kicking upward defines our body.
The unspoken effects of suppressing our feelings is the immense energy it takes to convince others (and often ourselves) from seeing who we really are. You may be thinking, "I just turn it off." That may be true, but it takes more energy to hide from our feelings than it does to acknowledge them. Consider the energy it takes to force your leg from kicking when your reflexes are tested. To someone watching, it would appear that no energy is being expelled; however, we know that while the effort may not be visible to others, we would have to work really hard to hold our leg still when it was designed to jump in response to the doctor's tap. The amount of energy you exert keeping your feelings hidden is extraordinary, even if it cannot be seen.
Also, while our feelings are instinctual and natural responses to our environment, it will take effort on our part to re-learn how to openly feel. Remember, we have spent a lifetime suppressing our instincts to the point that suppression is more comfortable than not; however, with a conscious effort I believe that the energy spent re-learning to own our feelings is much less energy than that spent fighting against them.
While it is difficult at first, accepting our feelings is the first step to not only connecting with ourselves but to anyone in our lives. We are all designed to be in contact with one another, and the deeper that relationship goes, the more fulfilled we can be in our lives.
If you are sharing feelings, say: I feel ___________.
Try to avoid saying: I feel like ____________.
Visit these websites for a list of common feeling words: