In a world where “Breaking News” occurs around the clock with threats of nuclear war and natural disasters, it’s only instinctive to play down our own reactions and feelings so that we can carry on with the day. I have to admit, when I watched the news reports on the latest allegations against Harvey Weinstein, sparking a controversial debate, I became so consumed with disgust and upset it was difficult to focus on anything else.
As a society we have become experts at numbing feelings. Over the course of a day, we have to decide what to spend our emotional energy on. Working parents with a full-time job and energetic offspring choose carefully what “battles to pick.” But what happens when brushing things under the rug becomes the norm?
One of the most common themes I see amongst clients is inexperience in feeling emotions. Often times we start seeing a therapist to confront our inner issues that have been plaguing us for far too long. We book the appointment, sit on the couch, and think, “Now what?” Usually, its not long before I can see that a client has not felt the full impact that a particular relationship, situation or life event has caused them.
So what does it mean to feel our feelings and what can that do for us? The suppression of feelings starts at a young age. Parents simply cannot attune to every upset that a child has. Nor can society stop and mourn the loss of the hour and a half you spent commuting with train delays. Life goes on. Like the viral saying, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” we learn to just move on, often for the sake of others, without ever feeling the depths of our emotions.
On a surface level, the choice to brush feelings under the rug seems like the most sensible thing to do. Often times it is so effective to the point we feel like a zombie dragging our feet tuned out to all external stimuli. Or perhaps after years of shoving the feelings away, a pervasive depression has emerged. The point is, unfelt feelings typically manifest in one way or another.
This begs the question: how do we feel our feelings? Like anything else, in baby steps. Some people are so good at suppressing feelings they can’t even begin to identify what they’re feeling in a given moment. To those people I recommend a handy app called, “Moodtrack Diary,” free on the app store. The app is used to log emotions and rate them in intensity. Users can view trends in certain moods throughout the week, normalizing that experiencing a range of emotions from day to day is perfectly okay.
The next time someone habitually asks you, “How are you?” You may respond with your trusty, “Fine, and you?” But it may be a good opportunity to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling in that moment. Lastly, therapy is a great way to practice feeling emotions. Unlike most situations in life, therapy provides a safe and supportive space to feel the depths of depression, joy, grief, anger, shame, and everything in between.