Many believe that the word ‘feelings’ only means emotions but actually, the word describes anything we feel whether that’s physical or emotional. By understanding the word feelings from this broader perspective we can start to get curious about why we have them, how we know we have them and how to respond to them.
How to interpret your feelings
We are so used to taking it for granted that when we are hungry we have something to eat that we don’t notice that knowing first of all how to interpret the feeling of hunger correctly and then taking appropriate action to respond to this feeling is actually vital for survival. It wouldn’t be very helpful if when we felt hunger we put on a jumper thinking the feeling meant that we were cold, we’d soon starve to death or from overheating.
When looking at emotional feelings the same principles apply. Feeling happy lets you know that you are enjoying your experience. For you to know that this is an enjoyable experience is key, if you didn’t have that important piece of information, you are unlikely to seek to experience that again.
Learn to understand your feelings better
How do you know what you are feeling? What actually lets you know? It takes practice to build up awareness of your feelings. It’s a bit like learning a new language. You start, for example, by learning the word for bread and then you learn the words for wholemeal bread, then you can order a wholemeal baguette and even know the words for asking for seeds on top. This is why we talk about Health and Emotional Literacy, the ability to read and communicate this information.
Do you know how you feel anxiety? Or what the difference is between feeling excited and nervous? Do you have words to describe how you feel?
What do you do with the information about your feelings?
Once you develop more awareness of what you are feeling, how you know you are feeling this and not something else and how to describe your feelings, the obvious question is what you do you then do with that information.
Your tendency may be to dismiss your feelings or brace yourself as you weather them and wait for them to pass. You may be critical of yourself for feeling them or of others who you associate or relate to those feelings. The risk here is that when you dismiss a feeling or get stuck in being critical you lose the opportunity to learn what information is contained in the feeling and what action is needed to complete or resolve the feeling. The real value and power is in getting curious about the feeling and what triggered it in the first place.
It is more helpful to be curious than critical.
An example of a helpful and curious question is: ‘I wonder what this feeling might be telling me’ or ‘I wonder what the information might be that this feeling is communicating’. Is it telling me that I’m cranky because I’m hungry or that I’m angry because my colleague keeps speaking over me at meetings?
The next step is to look at what am I doing to respond to this feeling? Is it helpful? What are my choices? Depending on what the information is this would require very different choices and actions. You may feel you don’t have a choice and that there is no point. This is rarely the case, there are almost always some choices. Ask yourself: ‘If I were to have a choice, what might that be?’ Invite the possibility that there might choices you’re not currently aware of.
Write it down or say it out loud
Writing this exploration down can make thinking more flexible. Talk things through with a trusted friend or a professional, and experiment with speaking things out loud to and with yourself. This means that you are engaging not just your thinking brain but also your vocal cords and muscles, as well as your hearing. This means much more overall brain processing power, increasing the opportunities for a helpful way forward.
When you dismiss your feelings, you have lost the opportunity for learning and action and more likely to be disempowered. Plug into your power: learn to read and communicate you. #GetCurious