My friend, Sarah, recently told me about a dream she had had. It was a warm, sunny day and she was swimming in the sea. A swell rolled towards her and as it started to break, she decided to body surf it. The wave crashed into her and she went with the momentum, carried along in the bubbling, swirling water. “It was exhilarating!” Sarah exclaimed. “My body felt light and free suspended in the flow. I landed on the shore and sat in the shallow water disheveled but delighted!”
She actually woke herself up laughing! I met up with her later that morning and she couldn’t stop talking about her dream.
“I want more of those feelings of joy and freedom that I felt in the dream. I have started to think of situations in my life where I could be brave enough to let go of some of that control and “ride the wave”. I realise that I hold on very tightly to my feelings, hiding them, and even denying them. I have done this for so long that sometimes I think I am not even aware of my feelings anymore.”
Our Feelings Are Clues
Feelings can be scary, shameful or overwhelming especially if you have grown up being told to “toughen up”, “take a concrete pill”, “reign it in”. Perhaps you haven’t seen others role model what it looks like to express feelings in a healthy way.
In many cultures, men are told that showing feelings is a sign of weakness. Women are often out of touch with their own feelings because they tend to focus their energy on the feelings and needs of others, rather than their own.
Many of us have been taught to hide our feelings, to change or manage them somehow. We don’t have the language to describe our feelings. This impacts our relationships because without this basic, shared emotional understanding, it can be difficult to connect deeply or meaningfully with others.
When we can name a feeling, it becomes easier to recognise the need behind it. Our feelings are messages that tell us how well our needs are being met. When our needs are being satisfied, we feel happy, contented, and calm. If they are not being met, we may feel sad, angry or discouraged.
It is important to acknowledge your feelings without judgement of whether they are good or bad, right or wrong. You don’t have to like the feelings that come up, you can just accept that they are there.
Find Out How You Really Feel
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you identify your feelings in a situation:
- How are you feeling? Can you give it a specific label? (not just good or bad) If you struggle to identify your feelings, here is a list to help you.
- Where in your body are you feeling it? How strong is the feeling, out of 10?
- Where do you think this feeling comes from? Have you felt this before?
- What needs of yours are at the root of this feeling? Here is a list of needs to help you.
- How can you best care for yourself right now?
What happened to Sarah?
Sarah has been practicing becoming aware of her feelings and naming them without self-judgement. She is amazed at the understanding she gains when she identifies the underlying need. Sarah still uses the lists to find words to describe her feelings and needs, but it is getting easier the more she does it!
Sarah says she is no longer afraid of her feelings because she knows they are just clues. She rides each one like a wave and is experiencing more emotional freedom and greater self-empathy than ever before.