How to Really Feel Your Feelings Instead of Overthinking That S**t
I believe that feelings ought to be felt, and no, that is not news, and it’s not an original idea, either. But it’s that’s really hard to apply for most people, myself included.
I have forever struggled with being able to feel my feelings (like reeeeallly feel them, in my body, not just thinking about them with my bossy ass mind). So, yeah, the same shit that I said in the title, with more words mixed in. (Does that count as self-plagiarism? No time for an existential crisis, bossy brain, we’ve got a blog post to write! Onward!)
First let me explain a distinction that escaped me for most of my life and may be escaping you as well: Emotions ‘happen’ in the body, and they exist to get you to do shit. Yes, that shit isn’t always good, like when we are experiencing anger, but sometimes it is excellent, like when we are experiencing compassion, and sometimes it’s in between and all over, like when we are experiencing love, or lust, ‘celebrity crush obsession.’
The word emotion comes from the latin word ‘mot’ and it means ‘move’. It is the root of hella english words having to do with movement of various sorts, including automobile, remote, and motivation.
So the next time someone calls you ‘emotional’ (or you deign to call someone else this ‘innocent descriptor’ / savage dis), remember that is just means you are prone to ‘being moved’, or ‘human’, or ‘not a sociopath. Thank them for the lovely compliment! Then take note of your physical sensations! (More on that later!)
Emotions do originate in our brains, and yes, particularly in the limbic system. Okay, smarty pants you’ve done your homework. Or maybe you are just learning this for the first time. Either way, the cat’s out of the bag about the limbic system now. Speaking of cats, I’m no Cat Whisperer , but I’d say they have active limbic systems, as they are moody AF.
Typically, when we are reflecting on, speaking about, or making sense of our emotions we are not necessarily really feeling them in our bodies, but we are rattling them around in our minds and letting our fancy pants human consciousness make sense of them. And this is a good thing! Conscious thought in general, and self-reflection in particular, are two of the fun, unique, and sometimes infuriating facets of being a human.
But there is a drawback to all this thinking. We can get cut off from our bodies. And to add to this conundrum, we live in a world that prioritizes thinkiness over body having and feeling, and so we tend to cut ourselves in half, in our minds, and start thinking of our brains and bodies as being separate. Which they are not.
Brains and bodies are part of the same package (just think about where you store your brain… right, in your body!. Minds and bodies are separate though, but that’s just a mind trick.
Let me blow your mind by reminding you that it doesn’t actually ‘exist’, at least not in the same way as cupcake I’m about to eat ‘exists’ (tangibly, temporarily). Specifically they don’t ‘exist’ like our brains do. Minds are more ethereal, they are more about our consciousness, sense of self and worries about whether we look good in these pants (We do, our butts look great, work it, us!)
Now, let me assure you, and inadvertently possibly discourage you, that if you are about to insist that you are really feeling your feelings because you’re a smarty pants (which we’ve already established!) and these words to the wise are for other people, well, that’s probably a big ol’ nope.
Yes, you need to build body awareness to become more emotionally aware (more on this later). But, also you need to keep honing that awareness and getting more specific as you practice this skill all the livelong day (more on that later, as well).
I can honestly say that as someone who has developed hella body awareness over the years, as well as at least a bit of emotional intelligence, I still have a hard time overcoming my boss ass mind and getting less introspection-y and more body feeling-y. If you are a super introspectioner like me, you need to keep tabs on this shit!
Tools: Body Scan and Emotional Noting
Body Scan: If you don't have a lot of body awareness, or aren’t sure you do, start with the Body Scan. An oldie but a goodie! Body Scan meditation is an open secret, but what they don’t tell you is that you need to repeat it alllll the tiiiiime. It’s not a one time, magic pill situation.
Sample Body Scan Train of Thought:
“How does my stomach feel?.... Hmmmm… Weird…. Weird?!... But Why??... No, wait, how does it feel?... Uncomfortable, not good …. Not good, WTF does that mean? Come through, brain!… Ugh I have so much to do today… I’m overwhelmed… Wait, back to stomach sensations… Get specific… It feels like I’m being squeezed, I’m shrinking myself and closing my middle.... Nope those aren’t sensations… It feels tight, restricted… Is it because of stress? Do I have an ulcer? An ulcer is the last thing I need!.... Oops, breathe… Feel the tightness… Maybe if I sat up straighter the tightness would go way… Wait, nope, just feel… breathe… feel… Ooh puppies are cute, I should get a puppy…” *sigh*, and repeat...
And so as you can see, there is a constant interrupting by your brain. Silly ol’ brain. It’s sooo easy to slip into thinking mode, and away from feeling mode. Thinking about ourselves is our default setting, after all! FIND LINK TO DEFAULT MODE NETWORK ARTICLE / VIDEO Any type of meditation is a bit like a negotiation between your conscious mind (what you want to do, what you need) and your crazy brain (hey, look at that squirrel!) and this back and forth doesn’t mean you are ‘bad’ at meditation or focusing in general. This is the process! Keep coming back to sensations, and keep challenging yourself to be more and more specific. If you have to come back a million times, great! If it’s less or more, great! No matter what, it’s ‘working.’
Pro Tip: It’s probably way more beneficial to do three 2-minute body scans per day (perhaps before or after each meal) than one 20-minute body scan once in a while, or even daily, to start. Yes, any type of meditation can improve your focus, but that’s not the primary objective of this meditation. This is about developing body awareness and honing your skills in identifying body sensations instead of thinking about your feelings.
Emotional Noting Meditation:
The next step to teasing apart your body sensations and your bossy mind is to learn the skill of emotional noting. Emotional noting is all about learning to recognize, and name, your emotions without letting your mind run off with a crazy story about them.
Sample Emotional Noting Train of Thought:
“What emotions am I feeling?.... Hmmmm… Happy? Confused? Overthinking?... Oops, now I’m thinking about thinking about emotions... I feel energized, fidgety, happy... I wonder why I’m always so fidgety when I try to meditate… Wait, I’m just supposed to be noting my emotions… I feel energized… I feel fidgety… I feel happy… Can I be more specific?... I feel motivated… I feel a bit anxious, but not in a bad way… I feel positive, optimistic… I think I’m happy most of the time. Is that true? What about the other day?... Wait, back to emotion noting… Energized… fidgety… happy… motivated… anxious… positive… Some of those are kind of contradictory though... Wait, nope, just feel… breathe… note... Ooh puppies are cute, I should get a puppy…” *sigh*, and repeat...
As you can see, it’s basically the same shit as the body scan! I can’t reiterate this enough: adjust your expectations so that when you interrupt yourself, get off track, come back, lather, rinse and repeat, you don’t end up being a shithead to yourself about it :)
If you find yourself in a constant loop of ‘correcting’ yourself when your mind jumps in and starts to take over, don’t take it personally. That’s just a totally normal feature of your human brain. It’s funny. “Ha!” you could say, “My mind is so silly! Look at it go!” instead of something like “WTF! I suck at this! My mind is shit! Fuck you, self!”. Please, for your own sake, stick to the first one. If that feels undoable, book a call with me LIIIIIIIINK! so we can chat about it!
Like any skill, learning it is a process. Your brain needs loads of repetition to create new neural pathways. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “Where do I feel that in my body?” and challenge yourself to get below the surface to what’s underneath. Be specific. Find the words you need to describe what you are feeling. Accept that it will be hard and feel weird at first (and how does that feel in your body, hmm?)