For many of us actually feeling our feelings is not something we have much experience with. Maybe we’ve dismissed our disappointment, our sadness, our anger, our anxiety, our grief for years. And that’s OK. Because it’s something you can work on. One place to start is writing.
Don’t worry if you don’t think of yourself as a writer (even though you are). Don’t worry about creating a beautiful, perfect or profound sentence. Don’t even worry about creating sentences at all. Just write from your heart. However it comes out. If you’d like some structure or guidance, below are five ideas for using writing to explore your emotions.
- Write about experiencing the feeling in third person. This gives you some distance from the feeling, and maybe even a different perspective. Margarita has been feeling so anxious lately. Jittery. Restless. On edge. Unglued. It’s like her body is pulsing with electricity. It’s just so uncomfortable. Everything becomes another thing to worry about, to solve, to do…
- Write about your memories. I came across this tip in a piece on penning memoir in the February 2016 issue of The Writer. It’s a prompt from Susan K. Perry, author of Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity. To explore childhood memories, she suggests we “think in terms of specific emotional high points” and consider these questions: When did I feel most afraid or confused? When did I feel shame? When did I feel most embarrassed, sad, angry? Write one paragraph for each question. Then pick one paragraph, and develop it into a scene.
- Give the emotion to a character. That is, write about a character who’s completely different from you but who’s feeling the same exact emotion. Describe this character. Describe the emotion. Talk about why they’re feeling this way. Talk about why they have a hard time feeling their feelings. Talk about what they’ll do to cope with it (in a healthy way).
- Write about your feelings regularly. In a notebook, divide one piece of paper into five columns. Title the first column “date” (and write the date you’re feeling this feeling). Title the second column “feeling.” Title the third column “What this feeling looks like.” Title the fourth column “What this feeling feels like.” Title the fifth column “cause” or “why I’m feeling this way.” Any time you’re feeling any kind of feeling, write it down in your notebook. The nice thing is that you can return to your writing, and look for patterns, deepening your understanding of your emotions and of yourself. This might help you cope better. It might help you make wiser, more supportive decisions for yourself. Maybe you feel similar feelings on certain days or weeks. Maybe your feelings are connected to one cause (e.g., your job; a certain person; lack of solid boundaries; not sleeping or resting enough). Maybe your sadness looks very similar to your anger, and both are really about disappointment or grief.
- Write about your emotion like you’re writing a children’s book. Sometimes we hide behind big, complicated words. Sometimes we aren’t even sure what we’re feeling (which is totally common, normal and understandable). Try to simplify. Make your writing as clear and straightforward as possible. Focus on the bare essentials. Write so that a child reading this book could understand where you’re coming from. Write as plainly as you can.
Start with the exercise that feels easiest (or most interesting) to you. Or adapt an exercise so it works better for you. Go slow. Ease into it.
I know this can be hard, especially when we’re dealing with painful emotions. So maybe you start with a different, lighter emotion. An emotion that doesn’t feel explosive or all-consuming or so heavy. In other words, start where you can. Start where you are.