So many of us struggle with feeling our feelings. Maybe we were taught to dismiss them, to pretend they don’t exist. Maybe we were taught that anger is an emotion to swallow and sadness an emotion to sweep away. They’re negative, after all.
Maybe we received the message that some feelings are OK —like happiness and excitement—while others are not. Maybe we received the message that good kids smile and don’t rock the boat by having “bad” feelings. That bad feelings equal bad, ungrateful, naughty, unruly, shameful kids.
Or maybe this is something we learned on our own, because emotions, like anger and sadness and fear, can feel unpleasant. They can be uncomfortable. They can lead us to want to crawl out of our skin. They can hurt.
Yet we can learn to feel our emotions. We can try different strategies that help us tune into our emotions, thereby connecting to ourselves.
In his practical and powerful book Emotional Rescue: How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion into Energy That Empowers You Buddhist teacher Dzogchen Ponlop shares a helpful technique we can use to read our “emotional temperature.” It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing. We can take a moment while watching TV, while walking, while working, while paying our bills, to check in with ourselves.
He suggests reflecting on these questions during your pause:
- What emotion am I feeling? Maybe you’re angry, afraid or sad.
- How intense is that feeling on a scale of 1 to 10? (1 being mild; and 10 being super strong).
- What is the texture of this feeling? Maybe it’s sharp, vibrating, dull.
- Does this feeling fade or does it transform into another emotion?
Try not to judge the feelings that arises. Get curious instead. Get curious like you’d get curious about a new person you’re meeting. A person who intrigues you. A person who seems like he or she has an interesting perspective to share. So instead of judging you emotions, you’re more focused on getting to know them. On better understanding where they’re coming from and who they really are.
This isn’t easy, of course. Because emotions are physical. Almost tangible. The sensations can shake us. Literally. This is why practice helps. This is why checking in with ourselves regularly helps, too. Doing so lets us notice our emotions when they’re subtle and small; before they balloon and get bigger, and overwhelm settles into our bones. This is why taking deep breaths helps, too. Deep breathing can give you a much needed pause. Time to relax before reacting.
Listening to our emotions is really listening to ourselves. Which is a powerful and positive message to send. You can feel however you feel. There are no shoulds. No right or wrong. There is only information. There is you naming your emotion and letting it flow through, without judgment, without criticism.