Repressing vs. Expressing Our Feelings
Are you one of those people who knows and says what they are feeling when bothered, blue, irritated, giddy or angry? Or are you the type, like many I've known, who tends to go blank when someone asks you, "How does that make you feel?"
If you have trouble expressing your feelings, this may actually mean you're having difficulty identifying them. If you need a few ideas to support you in the process of uncovering what you're feeling, check out the six tips below that we at MCS Counseling have found useful.
When I want to know what I'm feeling, I can do the following:
1. Examine What I'm Feeling in My Body
Rather than saying "I don't know" to the question, "How do you feel?", try body scanning to access your emotional experience at that very moment. Are you feeling tight, flushed, sore muscles, stomach gurgles, cramping, coolness, or heat in any part of your body? Go there with your concentration and ask yourself, "If this part of my body could talk, what would it say?"
2. Identify the Feeling
For many people sheltering in place during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), so much downtime has left them feeling down, anxious, and for some, with thoughts of suicide. Many have turned to overuse of non-prescription drugs, alcohol, food, gambling or impulsive spending. Some find themselves spending all-day gaming or binge-watching TV night-after-night.
Others have been unable to turn off the news for fear of missing something and in doing so, they are flooded with death tolls, misinformation from the top, and civil strife between red and blue states. Some have been caught off guard by seeing this compulsive behavior in themselves or someone they love.
No wonder so many feel lost under the waves of an unknown future; they may not be able to identify any feelings but numbness. Not knowing what is going on outside us often leads to not what is going on within us.
Notice the colorful wheel-of-feeling above. If you're one who tends to feel at a loss of words, you will not be disappointed. Consider, picking three of the vast array of possibilities and write one paragraph on each and read it aloud to one person you trust.
3. Bring In Compassionate-Awareness
Some of us have experienced a lot of teasing or bullying when we expressed ourselves as children. Whether we cried when punished, or screamed when we fell or laughed too loudly in a sacred place, we may have been mocked, dismissed or silenced somehow. This can leave us feeling ashamed and on guard against spontaneous expression. In our future, we will be more likely to defend against strong feelings – even the preferred ones.
When we bring the flashlight of curiosity to what we might be feeling, we may feel flickers of shame once again. Instead of defending ourselves against potential humiliation, we have the chance to pivot from the old thinking and bring in the compassion and acceptance to whatever has come up for healing. We get to do this differently now that we know more.
4. Be WITH the Feeling (or Lack of Feeling)
Whether we are running from task to task or distracting ourselves with a technology trance on our "smart" phones, computers, or television, having quiet time for observance of the invisible can feel impossible.
Stopping ourselves and breathing slowly (even counting breaths slowly from one to ten) can be miraculous. If we're still baffled by our undramatic inner life, at least we will feel calmer.
Even taking one minute for silence outdoors can let bubble up what we've been unable to notice.
5. Journal for Three Pages
The best-selling author of Artist's Way Julia Cameron attributes much of her creative success to the power of writing three pages a day of whatever "wants expression" from inside her. One can begin this process with writing prompts taken from her book or my own or by just asking oneself, "What happened yesterday that I would or wouldn't want to happen again?" or "When am I most happy, bored, agitated or sad?" or "What did that look and feel like the last time I felt that way?" or "What was I taught to do with complicated feelings?" or "What helped make things better or worse?"
6. Call (Don't Text) a Trustworthy Person
Most of us text each other as a rule and some would rather eat glass than make a call and talk about their feelings, this is why it's important to have the person you connect with be a trustworthy person.
When you get the person on the phone, you can ask "Is this a good time for a quick check-in call?" or even text with that same question. Either way, get time with each other (over the phone or FaceTime/Zoom) and tell the truth of what you are experiencing.
If you’re feeling numb, confused, frozen-in-fear or merely wondering if you even have a trustworthy person in your life to share with, try talking to someone in the mental health field. That's why we're here at MCS Counseling, (360) 698-5883.
If you or someone you know is in crisis right now, reach out to this hotline. Help is available 24-hours-a-day at the Suicide Prevention Hotline available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish.