Have you ever felt oppositional? Rueful? Disregarded? Conspicuous?
Have you ever felt strained, eclipsed or apart?
Since you are a human being reading this, chances are high that you have felt every one of those things at one point or another in your life. But here is a very important question.
Did you know what you were feeling when you were feeling it?
Most experienced psychotherapists know what I’m about to say because they have seen what I have seen. We know that many, many people are highly unaware of their own emotions a great deal of the time. And all of those people would feel happier and more well-adjusted, make better decisions, and have better relationships if only they were more aware.
The 3 Elements of Emotional Awareness
- You must have full access to your feelings, meaning you do not block, squelch, minimize or ignore them to the point that your ability to feel them is impaired.
- You must accept your feelings as valid and important, even if they are painful or seem irrational.
- You must be able to put a name to your feelings and share them whenever you need or want to do so.
I have worked with many clients to develop or improve on these three key elements. In this work, I have heard countless people insist that they have no feelings and declare themselves numb or empty.
I have challenged the guilt, anger, and self-recrimination of folks who believe that their feelings are a sign of weakness and feel ashamed for having them.
I have sat with dozens of couples who are far more comfortable arguing relentlessly about who is right and who is wrong or who has the correct facts because they have no idea that the real problems lie not in facts but in feelings.
I have also watched grown men and women flinch, wince, or flee when they are asked the simple question: “What are you feeling?”
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
Why are so many people unaware of their own feelings? In my observations and research as a psychologist, my best answer is this: Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
When you are raised in a family that does not validate and respond to the feelings of its members you learn some painful lessons early and well. You learn that your feelings are useless and that you should ignore and minimize them. You automatically block them off, and you grow into adulthood lacking full access to this valuable resource from within.
Your feelings, which should be motivating, guiding, directing and connecting you are walled off. They may be partially available but they may simply not be available enough.
You are still having feelings, meaning they are still taking place in your body, but you are not connected with what they are or what they mean. This is why I developed a special tool that helps you attack this problem from every direction. It’s called, simply, The Feelings List.
The Feelings List
I created The Feelings List when I was writing my first book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. The most exhaustive list is placed at the end of that book. It consists of pages and pages of feeling words grouped into various categories.
Over time, in my work with adult clients with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) in my office and my online Fuel Up For Life CEN Recovery Program, I find myself suggesting the Feelings List to many different people for many different uses throughout many different phases of their CEN recovery work. Now I am going to share those many valuable uses with you.
5 Great Ways to Use the Feelings List to Heal Your Childhood Emotional Neglect
- To increase your emotion vocabulary. Read through the entire list with a highlighter. Highlight every word you do not know the meaning of. Then look them all up. Believe it or not, knowing more feeling words opens your brain up to the realization that feelings come in many different qualities, shades, and depths. This is a building block for increasing your emotional awareness as well as healing Childhood Emotional Neglect.
- To learn about your own emotions. Read through the entire list with the question in your mind, “Does this feeling apply to me?”, and highlight the ones that seem familiar to you.
- To become more emotionally expressive. Set a goal to use one word from the list every single day.
- To become more familiar with your own feelings overall. Once per day pause, close your eyes and focus your attention inward (If you have the instructions for the Identifying & Naming Technique, follow them to make this maximally effective). Try to zone in on a feeling and where it lies in your body. Then read through the Emotions List to see if you can find a word or words that label it the best.
- To identify what you are feeling in the heat of the moment. When you are feeling a strong emotion, use the list to try to put a name on it. Naming a feeling is a powerful way to discern its cause and take away some of its intensity.
The process of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect is the exact process of valuing your emotions as the useful resource they are and learning the emotion skills that allow you to tolerate, identify, manage, and use your feelings.
If you have used the Emotions List in your own work, please post a comment to share how you used it. Others can benefit from your experience!
You can find the full Emotions List in the back of the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (link below). You can also download a PDF of an abbreviated version of the list HERE.
To access many resources to aid you in the process of connecting with your feelings, visit EmotionalNeglect.com (link below). You can also take the free Emotional Neglect Test, watch free videos and much more.