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Tell Me What You Really Feel

By Martha Lasley
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How do we build awareness of emotions and feelings? Many people are alienated or cut off from their emotional state and struggle to identify their internal reactions. If asked what they’re feeling, they identify their thoughts. Starting a sentence with these words invariably means the speaker is sharing his thinking, not what he is feeling:

  • I feel that…
  • I feel you…
  • I feel as if…
  • I feel like…
  • I feel she…
  • I feel I…

Following the word “feel” immediately with an emotion (internal state) helps people connect. To relieve alienation, you can awaken capacity for experiencing feelings and support emotional awareness by asking:

  • What’s your internal reaction?
  • How do you feel when you think she’s betrayed you?
  • What do your bodily sensations tell you?
  • Do you feel sad, angry, or hurt?
  • Which feelings on the list or cards resonate with you?

Pseudo Feelings

Sometimes people use pseudo feelings (listed in the resource section on page 3) to describe what they think other people are doing to them. A few examples of pseudo feelings are: abandoned, betrayed, manipulated, or disrespected. For instance, if I say I feel abandoned, that’s actually what I think someone else is doing, whereas my actual internal feeling is hurt, sad and angry. We can help people identify their emotions by asking, “How do you feel internally when you think someone has abandoned you?”

Other pseudo feelings include self-judgments or self-evaluations such as: bad, crappy, great, good, excellent, inadequate, worthless, terrible, horrible, positive, and negative. All of these words describe what we think about our experience, not what we feel.

If we struggle to identify our emotions, we can shift our focus toward our bodily sensations. Say I have a judgment that I’m being manipulated and can’t seem to touch on how I feel about that. I can ask, “Where does that live in my body?” or “Where is the disappointment?” or “When I think I’m being misunderstood, does my whole body experience it or does it live in my chest or belly?” These questions help us shift from thinking to the felt sense of our experience, which gives the feelings a place to call home. Rather than seeing a feeling as something dangerous happening outside of ourselves we develop self intimacy by honoring our internal emotions. If we have a low threshold for a certain emotion, say fury, it may be because we have an innate value of tenderness and vulnerability that we’ll do anything to protect, even if it means numbing parts of our own bodies.

Sometimes people become fixated with one emotion, where they are fascinated by or stuck in an emotional state. They may repeatedly tell stories that justify obsession with one emotion.

  • I can’t stop feeling this way…
  • He makes me feel…
  • I’m obsessed with…
  • I’ve been depressed for days…

Occasionally people are unable or unwilling to experience the shift to a full range of emotions, but the question is why? Instead of enabling people to wallow day after day, year after year in the same pool of emotion, we can help them get relief from fixation by:

  • Helping them be fully heard
  • Connecting with the beauty of the needs associated with the emotion
  • Asking them to shine the light on that intense emotion
  • Noticing micro-movement toward other emotions
  • Uncovering what needs are met by fixing attention on one emotion

The key to uncovering emotions is to shift from looking outside to looking inside. Noticing body sensations and giving space for experiencing feelings expands emotional intelligence dramatically. 

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