In graduate school, one of my professors would refer to feelings as the "F" word. Crazy, right? She didn't see the value in feelings and thought they were more of a distraction than anything else. In fact, much like the other "F" word, she didn't think it was even okay to say the word out loud. She had exceptional training and who was I to question her, but I just didn't agree that feelings were simply a distraction, or a term to not be uttered in a therapy session. At the time, I thought feelings were everything, especially with regards to therapy. How can you engage clients, specifically those with a history of trauma and NOT value their feelings?
Fast forward fifteen years and a few hundred clients later, I have changed my thoughts about feelings. I still value them, and I see the importance of processing them with my clients. I just no longer think feelings are everything when it comes to therapy. I recently had a conversation with a family member who asked me what the big deal is with therapists and their need to emphasize feelings. He said that feelings are nothing more than feelings and there is no need to fixate on their importance. Then it clicked. Why DO we put so much emphasis on feelings? What is up with the need to overanalyze our feelings?
Feelings are no more than what they are- our own emotional perceptions of a situation. They come, they go, they change, and they evolve. Let's take the power away from them. This is not accomplished by denying their value, or their existence. The way to take the power away from our feelings is to actually FEEL them. We spend too much time, as a society, denying our feelings, or stuffing them away because we are so afraid to be emotional, or to be seen as weak. What happens when we do that? Do we ever heal? In my experience, we don't. When we hide or numb our feelings, we develop pathology- and, it can show up in many different forms- addiction, self injury, eating disorders, or depression, to name a few.
Until we are able to learn to fully feel each feeling as it comes, and to remember that feelings will pass, we will continue to give them more power than they deserve. The thing is that the more we ignore or hide from our feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, disappointment, and fear, the more toxic those feelings become. Hiding from them doesn't make them disappear- this we know to be true. So, we might as well embrace each fleeting feeling. Just like our feelings of joy and excitement eventually pass, so do our painful ones. I promise. They will pass. No matter how hard they are, or how painful it is to fully feel the grief, the sadness, the anger- it will pass. But, not until you can embrace them for exactly what they are- just feelings.
How do you learn to feel feelings that you have spent a lifetime stuffing down? It isn't an easy process, but there are some concrete techniques that can get the ball rolling. Get a journal. When you find yourself in a "mood" - pull out the journal and write about it. Your writing does not need to be grammatically correct, hell, it doesn't even need to be coherent. Just get it down on paper.
Another thing you can do to exercise your "feeling" muscles is to play music that pulls out emotions in you. We all have a few songs that will remind us of a time in our life when maybe things weren't so easy. For me, my go to song is Rachel Platten's "Fight Song". When I start to feel a flood of emotions, I blast that song and express exactly how I feel. Sometimes, I need to play it a few times. But, afterwards, I ALWAYS feel better. ALWAYS. And, I am able to go about my day without feeling paralyzed by a multitude of scary and overwhelming feelings.
So, I guess my point in all of this is that maybe, just maybe, my professor knew exactly what she was talking about so many years ago. Maybe my 23 year old self missed her point completely. Maybe, feelings really are the "F" word of therapy, and we need to do the work in order to take our power back from them. And, in order to do the work, we need to first acknowledge that feelings carry too much power over us. We want our power back. We are tired of living in fear of our painful and scary feelings. "F" YOU, FEELINGS! Who is with me?