The Art of Feeling by Dr. Jennifer Freed
(This is an excerpt from her new book, PeaceQ, available exclusively on Amazon.com)
In order to have peace inside and peace with others we need to know how to identify and manage our feelings. The one thing about feelings is that everyone has them and they come and go all day long. Peaceful people are committed to expressing their feelings responsibly, and are often a shelter or comfort to those people around them who are in upset or unable to navigate extreme emotions. The great news is that all of us can learn how to have our feelings and use them wisely instead of our feelings “having us”.
“The best way out is always through”. ROBERT FROST
We are constantly managing intense feelings even if we try to avoid them or deny them. Sometimes we feel elated and joyful and other times we can feel paralyzed and even quite out of control. Feelings are signals about moving toward or away from experiences, things, or people, and we all get these signals more or less constantly. We are feeling-making machines. Babies demonstrate this perfectly. They cry when they are hurt or frustrated; they yell or pound when they are mad; they shiver or shake when they are scared; they spit things out when they are disgusted; and they laugh and smile brightly when they are happy.
As we age, we have a greater capacity to think about our feelings and decide whether to express them or to follow their guidance. Many of us learn to shut down our feelings to avoid negative responses from others. We often sacrifice emotional authenticity for public approval or not making waves. Unfortunately suppressing emotion is like putting a seal on a running water valve: It causes pressure and erosion. Emotions are meant to flow, and when they don’t, they create distress both emotionally and physically.
To be actualized as feeling and thinking human beings we need to explore what we feel, name what we feel, take full responsibility for what we feel, and find healthy outlets for our feelings, particularly the less pleasant ones like grief, anger, fear, and shame. In order to do this, we need to take time to notice what we feel and how we feel it.
If we do not have healthy outlets for emotion we will probably notice ourselves engaged in the following behaviors:
- Screaming at others
- Hitting others
- Swallowing or suppressing feelings with food, drugs, alcohol, another person, screen time, and/or sex
- Getting others to feel sorry for you
- Getting others to bag on other people
- Engaging in bullying or mean behavior
- Getting attention from others through highly charged emotional drama
- Denying that we have feelings at all
- Keeping too busy to feel
- Lying to avoid feeling
- Not getting out of bed
- Giving up on doing anything positive
People who do not process their feeling states in a mature and conscientious way are most likely taking out their feelings on others, or on themselves. I have also watched people go from person to person, substance to substance, all in attempts to run from and avoid their emotional pain. The tragedy is that pain multiplies with every attempt to escape it instead of facing the actual feeling and the underlying cause. The most effective and direct method to solving emotional pain is to feel it, name it, and deal with it in the moment.
What you can do
Practice identifying your emotional state (sad? mad? frustrated? afraid? joyful? anxious?) and employing healthy outlets to help the emotions work their way through you.
That is the only way to be free. Any suppression or projection of difficult feelings will be only a short-term fix or damaging setback—if that.
Most of our highly charged feelings come from past triggers that we may be or not be aware of but can hijack us emotionally in a nanosecond. Each of us has a biography of emotional land mines that are called up when a situation triggers their memory.
Sometimes, these situations seem minor to others, who have their own triggers that don’t make sense to us at all!
For example: I have a trigger about people being late because my parents were often late to pick me up when I was little and I was dependent on them. Even now, I feel irrationally terrified when someone is late because at some deep level I believe I am being abandoned. Once I realize this, I can comfort my current self by saying, “I am in charge now, and I can leave when I want to,” I can soothe myself and not act like a child having a tantrum when someone is late.
Take time to reflect on the triggers you’ve noticed for yourself and work to free yourself from those triggers.
When you are scared, shake your body out and say the following words: “I am scared, and I am okay.” It really helps to give yourself permission to be scared and realize that, in that moment, you are okay. Fear is often predicated on what might happen in the future. Releasing it in the present moment helps you face what is to come with a calmer heart and mind.
Feelings are entirely subjective and therefore each person will have their unique affective responses to things.
This is easily demonstrated by the fact that what some people find terribly sad or maddening in terms of human behavior or ideologies, others are celebrating. It is each of our responsibility to release troubling emotions in the best and most effective way possible in order to be clear minded and open hearted in each new moment.
Cry your heart out; ask that all your sorrow be released and that you become able to find peace in your heart. This works better if someone can just be with you, helping you cry it out, without trying to fix or take away your grief.
Find a place to pound on pillows or scream without interrupting anyone else’s peace. Refrain from making a story about why you are upset and simply vent the pure rage as a red ball of fire needing to be expressed with your voice and physical gestures.
Write a rant or song or draw a picture expressing your deep feelings.
Go for a vigorous walk, dance, or workout in order to release pent-up feelings.
Ask others to support you in moving through your feelings and coming up with positive things to do.
Sometimes we do need to turn to others close to us, or professionals, to help us safely investigate the hardest feeling states. We were never meant to be isolated in the most difficult of times. When we fully express difficult emotions it is like taking the most complete and refreshing shower and we can emerge emotionally clean and mentally clear.
Final Tips for Feeling Mastery
Practice “owning” your feelings rather than blaming others for your own feeling states. Avoid using the term “You make me feel…” and instead use “I” statements such as “ I feel hurt when you do not listen to me”
Let others know how you honestly feel in a vulnerable way, not in an accusatory way. Recognize that if you want to complain, what you really want is to make a request. Translate complaints into kind, assertive requests: Instead of “You never call me back!” try “I feel neglected when you do not call back. I would like you to text or call me even if it is to say you won’t be able to talk for a period of time.”
Make sure you have a number of people to go to when you are upset. Having only one person to rely on is too much pressure for anyone. No one person can meet all your emotional needs. Nor can you be the only one for someone else. The most emotionally healthy people have a list of personal and professional allies who they can call when they need an emotional release.
People who are competent in the art of feeling acknowledge their feelings and have an ongoing practice for releasing feelings instead of dumping them on others. To the degree we can feel all the hard feelings and release them, we possess a wider, bigger valve through which to experience and express the positive emotions. The more room you consciously make to feel all the big feelings the more capacity you have to feel the great and good feelings. Feelings can truly be our friends if we have them instead of them having us.