‘I just feel like my feelings are a nuisance.’
‘I don’t know what to do with what I feel.’
‘I push down my feelings all the time because I don’t have it as bad as other people.’
I hear these messages daily.
Feelings can be complex and depending on the messages we’ve received about what to do with feelings, it can be hard to accept how we feel and make meaning. Some simple strategies to look at feelings include recognizing feelings through curiosity, make meaning through validation and, explore connections with thoughts and behavior. Let’s make feelings your friend.
Recognizing feelings is the first step in using feelings to your advantage. If you have been exposed to an environment where feelings were not discussed or pushed away, this can be particularly challenging.
Some people are in tune with how they are feeling and for others, it can be a struggle. Try to be a curious observer about how you are feeling. Notice changes in your body such as, ‘Hmmm..I notice my hands are sweaty or I wonder why my stomach has butterflies.’ Do a Google search for ‘feeling wheels’ to help with feeling identification. We may start simply with feeling ‘sad’ but then we can further identify in the feelings wheel as feeling ‘lonely’ which is different than feeling ‘ashamed’ for instance. Clarification is helpful when validating feelings.
Ok, so we’ve identified some feelings, now what?
Often, if you are not used to having feelings validated, it can feel foreign to express it. Some ways to validate feelings can start internally with self-talk. Being aware of the feeling and telling yourself, ‘Ok, I’m feeling frustrated with this work situation right now.’
Journaling is a helpful way to log feelings and notice patterns over time. It also helps with validating that feeling. We know that feelings can come and go so rather than dwelling on the feeling, think of it as an information gathering process.
What is this feeling telling me? Sharing a feeling with a close friend may also be a helpful way to have feelings validated.
So now, feelings have been identified and validated so now we make some connections. In cognitive behavioral therapy, there is a focus on a link between our thoughts, feelings, and behavior in a triangle format. Think about how different thoughts can connect with our feelings and then connect with what we do in a situation. For instance, I have a thought that I am doing too much at work and this makes me feel worried, so I choose to talk with my supervisor about changing my workload.
If you notice patterns in your feelings related to certain situations or people, think about possible action steps that may help you in resolving that situation. Maybe it means reaching out to someone or changing habits in your life or creating more space for self-reflection.
Remember feelings aren’t your enemy!
Feelings tell us something, but it is up to us to pay attention an acknowledge them. If you have trouble with identifying, validating, or making meaning of your feelings, connect with me and I’d love to help you further explore how feelings can be your friend.
Renee Pugh, LCSW