At this point in my career, I’ve walked hundreds, if not thousands of people through the process of feeling their feelings.
And, almost without fail, when this simple practice is complete, they say:
Wait, that’s it?
They’ve even said that with super intense feelings like shame, despair, terror, and humiliation.
They were expecting some sort of dramatic fanfare. They were expecting the earth to cave in. And, of course, their primitive brain was kind of thinking it would kill them.
So, when the process is over in less than a minute or two, and they totally don’t die, they are pretty surprised.
And, you’ll be happy to know that I have a 100% success rate with this process. Absolutely none of my clients have died when they felt their feelings. 😉
Because the truth is, feelings are just vibrations in your body. There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. They won’t kill you and, despite what you’ve been conditioned to believe, they won’t harm others, either.
Now, you might be wondering about people who act out hate crimes or kill people in a fury of rage.
And, that’s a fair thing to question. I used to wonder the same thing.
But, what I’ve come to understand is that the people who act out hate crimes or kill people in a fury of rage aren’t actually feeling their feelings.
Like most folks in our culture, they are afraid of feeling their feelings. And since they don’t have the proper skills necessary to process and understand their hatred or rage, they are trying to force those feelings out of their body (through the throat center) by acting them out.
And, let’s get real for a minute.
Why would they have those skills? Almost no one in our culture has been taught how to process emotions effectively.
In over a decade of working with clients from all over the world, I have literally NEVER had one that was truly comfortable with processing their emotions. Even the ones who tell me that they are. 😉
So, when folx act out their hatred or rage, they are doing the same thing as the person who yells at their partner for being late.
Acting out our feelings is not necessary, and it definitely isn’t the same thing as feeling them.
In fact, acting out our feelings rarely does anything for our long term emotional well-being because it doesn’t allow us to access and integrate their wisdom.
Similarly, expressing our feelings by talking about them or explaining them to others isn’t necessary either. Talking about our feelings can help us understand the wisdom of our emotions but only after they’ve been fully felt in the body.
So, our work here is to focus on feeling them and trust that if there is an aligned action to be taken, feeling your feelings will guide you in that direction.
What it really means to feel your feelings
Are you ready for it? Wait for it…
Feeling your feelings is the practice of observing the emotional vibrations that are present in your body.
If you are feeling anger, you may observe that the anger feels tight in your jaw.
Boom. You just felt your feelings.
And, yes, that’s it.
You don’t even have to be precious about it. You can feel your feelings in the middle of a meeting. You can feel your feelings in front of your kids. You can feel your feelings in line at the grocery store.
Feeling your feelings is JUST the practice of observing the emotional vibrations that are present in your body.
I’ve got three different practices to help you build this powerful skill:
- The Feeling Awareness Exercise
- The Safe Container Exercise
- The 100 Times in the Wild Practice
Here they are in deeper detail…
1. The Feeling Awareness Exercise
The feeling awareness exercise is designed to help you dip your toes into the waters of feeling your feelings. It is great if you are just starting the process of learning to feel your feelings.
It helps you SHOW your primitive brain that feeling your feelings is safe.
The invitation of this practice is to set aside 2 minutes each day to get quiet, it doesn’t matter when or even if you “aren’t feeling anything.”
Use your awareness to scan your body for emotional feelings and to observe those feelings, whatever they are, with compassion.
As you encounter an emotional feeling, observe the vibration of it and stay present with the feeling, noticing how it changes, until you can no longer feel it at all. This will usually be less than 2-minutes.
If you notice that you’re criticizing yourself, judging yourself, or that your mind starts to wander, nothing has gone wrong.
Just bring your attention back to the emotional sensations.
This practice is like building a muscle, both your compassion and your focus will improve with devoted repetition.
Once the timer goes off, take a few moments to reflect on the experience.
As you practice the feeling awareness exercise, keep in mind that the aim here isn’t to try to figure out why you feel a certain way; that wisdom comes with time and practice. For now, we are just building your confidence that feeling your feelings is safe.
Also, note that the feelings you notice may be different each day. And don’t be surprised if you notice feelings such as numbness, emptiness, or flatness. These feelings are completely normal human emotions and deserve your loving attention just as much as all of the other emotions.
You may also notice physical sensations like itching, discomfort, hunger, tiredness, or pain. If that happens, I encourage you to observe your emotional response to the physical sensation.
For example, if you notice that your back hurts, how do you FEEL about the back pain? Try to observe the emotion instead of the physical sensation.
Truthfully, the feeling awareness exercise will serve you well as a regular, lifelong practice.
Practice the feeling awareness exercise, every day, for as long as it takes for you to feel confident in your ability to observe your feelings without judging them.
2. The Safe Container Exercise
The Safe Container Exercise is designed to help you get acquainted with the specific feelings that are recurring for you. If you are one of my WonderFULL Purpose Map clients, this is the most important exercise of the three to work with.
And, it’s the exercise that others have credited me with literally changing their lives in an instant.
The Safe Container Exercise builds on the same skills and confidence you developed in the Feeling Awareness Exercise but adds in the element of feeling certain feelings on purpose in a safe and controlled way.
You’ll set aside 2 minutes each day to get quiet and then use your imagination to invite the feeling you’re practicing into your body.
Whatever the feeling is, you can “call on it” by thinking of a time when you remember feeling that way, you can ask the energy of that feeling to reveal itself in your body, or you can remember why you were feeling recently.
Try it both ways and see which one produces the feeling more easily.
Once you feel the feeling in your body, observe its vibration and stay present with it. Notice how it changes and moves through you. This will usually be less than 2-minutes.
When you no longer feel the feeling, take a few moments to reflect on the practice.
And, please, don’t try to be the feelings champion. A big part of the magic of this practice is setting the timer and then keeping your word by STOPPING when you said you would stop. Going longer will actually be detrimental to your self-trust!
Practice the Safe Container Exercise until you feel confident that you will be able to feel the feeling you’ve been practicing whenever it shows up in your day-to-day life, which is what the next exercise is about.
And note that if you decide that it’s time to move on to the next exercise, and then you freak out, that’s OK. Just come back to the Safe Container Exercise for a few more days and then try again.
Remember, you are retraining your brain and body to know that feeling is a safe thing to do.
3. 100 Times in the Wild Practice
The 100 Times in the Wild exercise is designed to help you start feeling your feelings as they occur in your day-to-day life.
To do this practice, as you go through your day and you notice the feeling rising, observe the vibrations in your body until they move all the way out. You can stop what you are doing, but you don’t need to.
Remember, feeling your feelings is just about observing the vibration in your body. Feeling has nothing to do with acting a feeling out or expressing it to others. We’re just feeling here.
Once the feeling has moved all the way through, ask yourself this simple question and jot it down in your journal:
Why was I feeling that way?
Repeat this practice 100 times. Depending on the emotion, that might take a couple of hours, a couple of days, or even a couple of weeks. No matter how long it takes, stick with it.
This is an incredibly enlightening practice.
But, if you fall off the wagon, remember that you are a human being. You aren’t meant to be perfect.
Give yourself the gift of Grace.
By the end of these feeling practices, you will start to develop an intuitive sense of the wisdom of this emotion by noticing the patterns of “why”. You may not be able to pinpoint it, but exactly, but you’ll have a general idea.
Once you have that general idea, read this post about the wisdom of the primary emotions the wisdom of the primary emotions.