Chances are you know someone in your life that LOVES this question. That will ask about your feelings at any given moment and expects an in-depth explanation of the complex range of emotions you are going through at that time. If you don’t know a person like that, you might BE that person.
There are two types of people when it comes to answering that question:
You have those who pause for a moment, close their eyes and ‘go within’, after which they will answer something along the lines of ‘I feel some sadness at this moment but also a sense of gratitude and a feeling of joy at being alive.‘
And then you have people like me. My answer is usually one of two things: I’m either ‘fine‘ or ‘kinda tired‘.
That’s it. My complete range of emotions in three words.
Well, at least, that was me for a long time. Sure I felt sad or happy at times, but mostly when I was absorbing the emotions around me. I’d sympathize with a friend, or feel sad reading a newspaper article, or I’d be moved to tears by a sappy commercial (nope, not exaggerating.) But when a friend or a partner would ask me how I felt about something, I drew a blank.
So, into the therapist’s office I walk one day, only to be confronted with the fact that when she asks how I feel about my relationship with my mother, or my job, or about love; I actually don’t know. There seems to be no feedback whatsoever.
I can THINK about what would be normal to feel. Or I can ASSUME how I would feel. But actually FEELING how I feel, not so much. What does ‘sadness’ even feel like? And what about ‘joy’?
A couple of years have passed since, and I’m still learning to explore my own emotions. A therapist advised me to take a few minutes each day, and start with picking up the physical sensations in my body. Then, I try to match those sensations with an emotion. Step 3 is to connect that emotion to a situation or a thought, but I’m not quite there yet. Baby steps.
I also did another exercise recently, loosely based on the technique of anchors I learned from another therapist, where I put coloured pieces of paper on the ground and had each of them represent an emotion. There was one for ‘joy’, ‘sadness’, ‘anger’, ‘fear’, ‘love’, and also one for just ‘me’.
I started on the ‘me’ spot, just taking a moment to come home to myself (tips on how to do that are in this post). I felt calm, peaceful.
And then I went onto each emotion in turn. And it was revealing, in many ways.
I discovered that ‘love’ and ‘joy’ make me smile (duh!). I notice how my chest opens up and I straighten my back. My body seems to grow taller.
I discovered that physically, sadness and joy are very similar to me, and that anger makes my entire body turn into a ball that’s ready to explode.
But mostly, I discovered that when I stepped onto fear, I felt my body freeze completely. My muscles just locked into place. This was surprising to me, since I had always assumed that ‘fear’ felt like ‘stress’. For me, it doesn’t. My body doesn’t go into a higher gear with sweaty palpitations. My body responds to fear by shutting down. No movement, no sound, no thoughts.
It was an important realisation for me, because I recognised this reaction from certain situations. And I finally realised that in those particular moments, I had actually felt afraid even when I didn’t know it at the time. Feeling the fear allowed me to ask myself ‘so, what was I afraid of?’ and learn from those moments. I got to know myself a little better again.
Learning to feel is step 1. Knowing what to do with it, is step 2. But that’s stuff for another post.
So, how are you feeling today?