“And how does that make you feel?”... This therapy standard response is a bit of a cliche … but have you ever wondered why therapists say this so often?
People come to therapy typically to “feel better” in some way, shape or form. The paradoxical path to feeling better, feeling more positive emotions, often comes through being able to actually FEEL one’s feelings, throughout the entire range. It’s a common human response to want to suppress or squelch so-called “negative emotions” like fear, anger, frustration or jealousy. But when we do, we metaphorically box them up and store them away. Like boxes we stuff into our closets and then later curse when they come tumbling out while we’re looking for something else, emotions that are boxed up and stuffed away don’t really disappear. They pile up and are waiting for us to deal with them at a later time.
And just like boxes of junk that obscure the items that we’re really looking for, difficult or challenging emotions we’ve stored away cloud our brains and reduce our capacity to find and to feel the more “positive” emotions like joy, gratitude or contentment.
So if our path to feeling better involves learning how to FEEL better, how do we go about that? The following suggestions are a starting point; working with a therapist would offer you more individualized support and guidance based on your specific needs. The path to learning to “feel” again can be challenging. Support and direction help, as do going slowly and committing to practicing.
Take a few minutes to check in with yourself. Find a quiet space if possible. A space with fewer distractions can help.
Try as much as possible to take a mindful, non-judgemental approach. See if you can simply “notice” and be aware without judging what you find.
Check in with your body. What do you feel? Our emotions, particularly if we are not in the habit of allowing ourselves to feel them, are often more easily accessed through our physical bodies. See if any area of your body feels tight, tense, warm, cold or any other sensation. See if you can put a name to what you are feeling. If not a name, can you describe the shape, color or texture of what you are feeling?
Ask yourself, what do I think this feeling is trying to tell me? What is it communicating? What do I need? It’s ok if you’re not sure.
If at any point you feel overwhelmed or overcome by strong emotions, remember that it’s ok to stop, find a calming, soothing or grounding activity, and to return to try this another time. Growing in our ability to feel our feelings takes time and practice, and that’s ok.
Amanda Jacobson, LMHC, is a licensed therapist in clinical practice since 2013. She has experience working in both inpatient and outpatient settings, with group and individual therapy and she has a passion for working with people recovering from addictions, as well as codependency, depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship challenges and major life transitions. She earned her master’s degree from Boston University.
Thank you for your interest in our Monday Mental Health Moment. Join our mailing list for a weekly newsletter on various mental health topics, and information about upcoming groups or workshops. We promise no spam!