Imagine that you are a little kid, and you’re upset. You’re crying and screaming, trying to get your parents to understand how you feel and respond.

But instead of acknowledging that you’re hurt, your parents tell you there’s nothing to be upset about. The more you clamor for their attention, the more they insist that you’re okay. They keep trying to distract you, telling you that you know better than to be afraid.

Sound familiar?

How might you feel if you were this little kid? How might you respond?

Although your parents’ intention might be to make you feel better, they’d likely only be making you feel worse. It does not feel good not to be heard. 

You might scream louder and louder, trying to convince them to listen. And if that didn’t work, you might give up on communicating directly altogether and try sneakier ways to get their attention. 

Now that you’re grown up, it probably still does not feel good to have someone tell you that you shouldn’t feel how you’re feeling. You still long to be heard, seen, and understood. 

Until you meet your need to be heard, your challenging emotions are unlikely to go away.

Quite frequently, a new client tells me that they think they’re wrong for feeling the way they feel. They’re “messed up” for feeling shame, “have a big ego” for being afraid that people won’t like them, “make no sense” for feeling so resentment at work. 

If, like my clients, you’ve been trying to get yourself to feel differently and it hasn’t been working, there’s a good reason. At the root of the word emotion is the word “motion.” Emotions are meant to pass through your body. As preposterous as it may seem, for your emotions to move through you, they often first need to be acknowledged and felt.

If you ignore your emotions or try to make them go away, they can get stuck, unresolved, in your body. But if you pay attention with kindness, your feelings have the space and support they need to move and change. As the adage goes, if you can feel it, you can heal it. 

What’s more, body awareness literally rewires the body-brain and reconnects previously disconnected parts. This has all sorts of benefits, including increasing your ability to choose more helpful responses to your emotions and discern what is best for you.

Naming transforms.

Naming your feelings is one of the most effective— and surprising— ways to regulate your inner experience and create solid ground from which to make good decisions. Rather than trying to change what you feel or make anything different, this practice is about simply being aware of what you feel. 

Even though most people don’t believe that putting words to our feelings helps at all, we see the effectiveness of this approach with fMRI. When the right word is matched with the right emotion, the activity of the amygdala— the fear center of the brain— decreases. When the amygdala is less active, stress decreases. When you give words to your feelings, with practice, you’ll likely discover that you feel more settled and alive. 

Noticing. Naming. Saying Hello.

I invite you to try this now.

Pause what you’re doing, gather your attention, and bring your gaze inward. Then, slowly notice your body. Feel your feet on the ground. Your body on the chair. How your body moves with each breath. Allow the weight of your body to sink down and be held by the chair, the floor, the land that you’re on. 

Then, place a hand on your belly and notice how you feel. Perhaps you feel tight or relaxed, cold or warm, constricted or open. Let your feelings be, without trying to change them, just noticing.

If you feel nothing, just notice that. Rather than trying to figure out if you’re feeling the right thing, notice what you’re feeling and see if you can let the feeling be, even if you don’t think it’s what you’re supposed to be feeling. Even nothing is something. 

Then, find words to describe the sensations you’re feeling. Maybe you feel hot, tingly, squeezing, light, movement, painful, closed, cold, tense, hard, heavy, empty, pulling, holding, warm, turned on, tired, full of energy, calm awake, or alive. These are all examples of feeling words.

When you find a word, ask your body if that feels right. “Tightness. Is tightness right?” “No? Hmmm… How about tension?” “No? Hmmm… How about constricted? Ah, yes! That’s right!” Don’t push to find a perfect description. Just experiment and ask if there’s more until you feel a sense of “Yup, that’s it.”

Now, do the same with your chest. Place a hand on your chest, and notice what you feel. Does your heart feel slow or fast? Does it feel at ease and alive? Notice how your heart and lungs feel and see if you can find words to describe the sensations.

Now, touch your throat and your face. Notice the sensations and describe what you feel.

When you’re complete with noticing your belly, chest, and throat, thank each feeling for spending time with you today. If it’s a promise you can keep, let them know you’ll be back.

I encourage you to do this body check for one or two minutes regularly throughout the day. Each time you engage with this practice, you strengthen your ability to soothe yourself and access important information.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sending you so much love and warmth,

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