It’s possible to be sensitive, emotional, and moody, yet never actually feel our feelings. Until we learn how, we’ll always sense that something is missing from our lives, our healing journeys, and even our selves.
“You’re not feeling your feelings.”
My therapist’s words confused me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been moody, sensitive, and overly emotional.
“You’re very aware of your feelings,” she explained. “But you’re intellectualizing them instead of feeling them.”
She was right. There’s a difference between being affected by feelings versus actually feeling feelings. I’m a sensitive, analytical person who gets a kick out of tracing the roots of my feelings back to childhood experiences, past trauma, and cultural and religious influences. It places a safe distance between my ego and the raw intensity of feeling the feelings that I’m very much aware exist.
Face the Fear
I’ve spent a lot of my adulthood learning to ride the waves of emotions. Motivated by a recurring dream, I learned to surf in my early twenties. In my dream, I was standing on a beach. Each time it occurred, a giant wave would rise above the sea and threaten to swallow the sand and everyone on it. It proceeded to crash on me in full force, but before I could feel it, I’d wake up.
When I grabbed a board and headed for the waves in real life, it was a literal attempt to conquer my fears. It took about a year to get it, and I’m still afraid of waves today. Two to three feet high is my style, and even then I’ve been known to scream before I hop on a ride. But facing the waves in my waking life altered my dream.
The next time the dream happened, the same wave crashed on me, except this time I didn’t wake up. Instead, the sea sucked the wave back in and left me in my dream on the beach, sitting and laughing.
Why Feelings Matter
So now the feelings: How many of us are willing to face our feelings head-on and allow them to wash through us? And what’s the value in that?
You know that insatiable vacuum we walk around with in our chests? That sense that something is missing or not quite whole? Our feelings hold the clue to what will truly fill and satisfy that void.
Christina Cline Schneider from The Parenting Shift first introduced me to this concept when she said, “Behind every feeling is a met or unmet need.” While she originally said those words to me during an interview about co-parenting, that same revolutionary concept applies to our adult selves as we strive to love our inner child into wholeness.
Lest we turn this into another intellectual exercise by mechanically pairing feelings with needs, let’s acknowledge the key to identifying those needs: feel the feels.
Feelings don’t live in our minds. They may arise from the mind, but they live in the body. For example, you might reason that you’re sad. The logical remedy might involve a chick flick or girls’ night out to cheer yourself up. But when you really sink in and sit with the sad, you notice a heavy feeling in your chest and an overall lack of energy.
Tuning into your body allows you to truly feel your feelings and have a more fulfilling response. Maybe what you really need is to get something off your chest or take a day of rest.
How are You Feeling?
One of the most basic acts of self love is to notice how we feel. This is something we help children learn by reflecting their feelings back to them in concrete language. When they throw a fit in the middle of math homework, we say “You seem frustrated.” When they hang upside down from their chair at the dinner table, we say “You have a lot of energy today! Are you feeling restless?”
As adults we can fine-tune our capacity for feeling even more by observing the body and trying on different words for the sensations we feel. If we can recognize feelings and needs in our children or pets, we can do it for ourselves, too.
So how do we do that? It takes practice. Not only do we have to tune into the body and feel our feelings—we also have to learn to identify the needs those feelings are pointing us toward and find creative, tangible ways to meet them.
If you’re struggling with how it all works, I invite you to download this free menu of sample feelings, possible needs, and concrete action steps for giving yourself what you really want:
Ultimately, what we want is already here just waiting for us to feel and receive. We can become our own best caretakers when we tune in to the body’s wisdom and open to its gifts.
What feeling are you most afraid of actually feeling? What need might that feeling highlight for you if you took the time to feel it?