How to Feel Your Feelings
by April Hadley, LLMSW
“The fastest way to freedom is to feel your feelings.” –Gita Bellin
I love this quote because it truly blows my mind! What does that mean? How do I feel my feelings? How does that lead to freedom? Although my mind doesn’t entirely understand, my heart feels an immediate sense of relief. Oh. I just have to feel. I don’t have to fight or resist or push anything away. Just feel. I start to breathe a little easier.
It is important to get both heart and mind on board together when learning new things. And so I was thankful when I came across a wonderful practice on how to begin to mindfully embrace my feelings in Dr. Becky Bailey’s book called, Managing Emotional Mayhem. Dr. Bailey offers a simple framework for naming basic emotions, a description of how we tend to react to our emotions (as well as those of our children) in less than helpful ways and offers a mindful way to begin to feel our feelings.
According to Dr. Bailey, we have 4 primary emotions – happy, sad, scared, and angry. I have found that most of my emotions very clearly fit into one of these four simple categories. However, you may more readily identify with one of their close cousins – calm, disappointed, nervous, and irritated. Use the words that work best for you but keep it simple.
Rather than feel what we feel, Dr. Bailey says we tend to quickly manage emotions in one of four ways: ignore, punish, dismiss, or fix. This simple information has helped me see how quickly I react and try to get rid of my own feelings as well as those of my children. For example, when I feel something like sadness or anger, I may tune out on Facebook (ignore), yell at one of my kids (punish), convince myself that “it’s not that bad” (dismiss) or latch onto the fastest solution (fix). When I react too quickly to emotions, my actions tend to be more of a band-aide rather than truly helpful and healing.
Dr. Bailey offers a practice that invites us to feel what we are feeling in a more mindful way. She calls the practice: DNA or Describe – Name – Acknowledge. You can walk through these steps anytime you want to better feel what you feel. You can also walk through these steps with your child as a way of teaching them how to feel their feelings.
D – Describe the emotion by specifically noting the physical sensations associated with it. “I feel a tightness in my chest.” “My mouth is in a frown.” You can say to your child, “I see your eyebrows are furrowed.” Keep it simple. Just a bit of describing is enough.
N – Name the feeling being experienced. Are you happy, sad, scared, or angry? Simply say, “I feel angry.” Or say to your child, “You seem sad.” Let your child confirm if this is true.
A – Acknowledge or accept the emotion. Acceptance is the antidote to ignoring, dismissing, punishing, or fixing. Take time to acknowledge the emotion for a few minutes or sometimes even a few days. Move to action only if there is something that can be done that will be truly helpful.
I have found that learning to describe, name, and acknowledge my emotions has brought more space into my emotional life. I am not perfect. I still have plenty of moments where I dismiss, punish, ignore or fix but I am beginning to experience more and more freedom and flexibility with my own emotions as well as with those of my children.