How To Feel Your Feelings: Part 2
As discussed in this post, experiencing your feelings is an imperative part of recovery. Our feelings are just like physical pain; they are communicating something to tell us that something is okay-when we experience something that feels good, or not okay- when we experience feelings that don’t feel good. Ignoring your feelings is like a beach ball under water: you can try to push it down but eventually it will become too difficult and it will pop up, ie, your feelings will be felt more intensely.
How exactly does one feel their feelings? This is especially difficult if you have been pushing your feelings away for a long time with your eating disorder or other maladaptive behaviors. The first step is to recognize that your feelings are felt in your body. That is, they are physical sensations. You might notice your heart beating faster than normal, your hands feeling tingly, or your chest feels tight. This is the first clue that you are having feelings. Telling yourself “I feel something in my body” is the first step. Whatever sensation you are experiencing- name it.
Next it’s helpful to identify what, if anything you can feel in your body. “I feel my heart racing” “I feel like I have a pit in my stomach”. This helps your brain make sense of the uncomfortable feelings. Often we push our feelings away simply because we cannot make rational sense out of them. Saying exactly what you are feeling helps your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that make sense out of things) understand what is happening in your body. This helps you to tame it. Name it to tame it!
Once you’ve identified what you are feeling, you need to tell yourself that it is OKAY to feel this. Often times we tell ourselves very unhelpful things about our feelings such as “this isn’t a big deal and I shouldn’t be feeling this way” “I’m such a wimp for feeling this” or the worst offender “It’s not okay for me to feel sad, anxious, fearful, etc”. Our feelings are just that: feelings. They are not rational and often times they don’t “make sense” to us. But telling ourselves that does not help us at all in feeling better or processing our feelings.
Next you can try to figure out why you are having the feeling. For example “I feel anxious right now because I have an event to go to and I don’t know anyone there” or “I am sad because my friend cancelled our plans.” A big caveat with this step is that often times we cannot figure out why we are feeling something, and that is okay! Or sometimes you may not be able to figure it out right away. Many times in my own personal life I wake up feeling strange and it’s not until 12 hours later do I actually realize why I was feeling something all day. It can help to know why you’re having the feeling but it is not essential to the process of feeling your feelings.
The final step is to simply allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling. Cry if you feel sad. Punch a pillow or clench your fists if you feel angry, sit with the anxiety of life and ride the wave of the emotion. This is by far the hardest part of this process. Sitting with your feelings is not easy especially when our society has taught us to… have a drink, go for a run, eat some ice cream, etc to make your feelings go away. But I promise, your feelings will not last forever! And if you actually allow yourself to feel them, they will go away much more quickly than if you try to push them down. The more you allow yourself to experience your feelings, the less painful it will become as time goes on. I know this is a difficult process, but living the rest of your life not feeling your feelings and using your eating disorder is also not an easy road.