One of the first tasks of psychotherapy is learning the language of feelings. Years ago, I used to joke that my own therapist didn’t listen to anything I said unless it was connected to a feeling of some sort. It seemed he had an obsession with “feelings.” And for someone who was emotionally shut off — as I was at the time — it was extremely annoying.
So if being forced to think and talk about feelings makes you want to beat your head against a wall or roll your eyes, trust me — I get it. When the task is foreign to you, few things feel more wishy-washy and ridiculous than talking about feelings.
But here’s the thing.
Feelings are signals. They signal us. And it’s our job to learn to discern and identify what they are saying. If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to learn to identify what goes on inside you, and a decent portion of that has to do with feelings. That means learning the language of feelings.
What Do You Need to Learn about Feelings?
A lot! Here are just a few examples:
Feelings are not who we are.
Not totally. Not completely. They are a part of us, but they are not us.
Feelings are in our body.
Literally. Feelings are merely a signal system of our nervous system and psyche. And they frequently manifest in physical ways.
So we have to learn to read our bodies and discern the symbolism associated with particular feelings. Because only then can we describe the many complex things that humans feel.
Feelings don’t last forever.
They come and go. They wax and wane.
Feelings — once identified — can be normalized and appreciated.
No matter who you are, feelings dominate your life and impact your behaviors. Most of the time you probably don’t even realize it. Because they’re sneaky. They hide in plain sight.
But once you can identify individual feelings, they become less magical. They can be normalized. You can sit with them and even swirl and bask in the whole parade of your unique, ever-changing, startling responses over and over again.
Feelings are completely confusing and irrational.
Not always, but they often are.
Feelings come in all shapes and sizes.
Some feelings are painful and some are pleasurable. Some are intense and some are quiet. Some have waves to them, some build up over time, and others just erupt.
There are so many different aspects to them and many different ways to describe them. There’s a speed, a color, a temperature, a shape, an internal experience to all of them. And many of them are messy — especially at first.
Feelings are human.
In fact, they’re a rather cool part of being alive — a living, ever-changing being.
Feelings can time travel.
Don’t believe me? If you’ve ever had an exaggerated response to something seemingly trivial (and you have — we all have), then you’ve experienced a time traveling feeling. A feeling that originally occurred in the past but has appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in your present to confuse you and complicate your day. Typically, these feelings are the result of some unresolved trauma that is embedded in your psyche.
How can you tell if a feeling is from the past? Head back to the beginning of that last paragraph. Are you having an “exaggerated response”? Blowing something out of proportion? A time traveling feeling is likely the culprit.
Talking Feelings and Feeling Feelings
Learning about your feelings is like learning a new language. This is both good and bad, because doing that is really hard. But it’s also something we’re all capable of — after all, you already learned a language once in your life!
Plus, there are huge positive benefits to learning how to talk about feelings. You get to become friends with your entire cast of messy, conflicting internal reactions. And you’ll be able to comfort yourself when you feel uncomfortable things.
Most importantly, it’s something you need to do. Because like it or not, feelings are here to stay. And how you feel about things actually makes a difference in your life.