Emotions can be nebulous and hard to pinpoint, hard to understand—especially if you were never really taught to identify what you’re feeling in the first place, especially if you’ve spent years ignoring your feelings. So many of us are disconnected from what’s happening inside our own bodies. So many of us are disconnected from ourselves.
Thankfully, we can reconnect on a regular basis. We can learn to go within. We can learn to listen. We can practice. And the more we practice, the more natural identifying and processing our emotions becomes.
We can start by seeking solitude, and sitting down with ourselves. We can start by writing out what’s swirling inside. We can write down the sensations we’re experiencing and the thoughts that are running through our minds. The below prompts also might help get you started (or simply inspire you to prioritize your emotional life).
- Identify the emotion you’re feeling. Take a few deep breaths, put your hand on your heart, and ask what that emotion is trying to tell you. Sadness, what do you want me to know? Jealousy, what are you desperately trying to communicate?
- Now take the opposite approach, and write a letter to your emotion. What do you want your emotion to know?
- Rate your emotion from 1 to 10. Or use crayons or markers to illustrate its intensity or strength.
- Write the story of your feeling. When have you felt this way before? What was it related to in the past? What is it related to today? Describe your feeling with as much detail as you can, as though your feeling is now the protagonist.
- Write down why you’re scared or hesitant or unsure to feel your feelings. Or write down why you’re in so much pain.
- If you’re feeling angry, explore what lies beneath that anger. Often it’s disappointment, hurt, sadness, shame.
- Observe your emotion from a distance, as a separate entity. What does it talk and walk like? What does it look like? You can write this down or draw it.
- Pretend you’re describing your emotion to someone you trust wholeheartedly. If you have someone like this in your life, speak to them about how you’re feeling.
- Write down what you’re telling yourself about this emotion or the situation surrounding it. I can’t feel angry with her because it’s all my fault. I don’t deserve to feel happy. I can’t feel this pain. It’s too much. I’m not strong enough. I need to get over this already.
- Write down what you’ve been taught about your emotions, whether it was explicit (i.e., your caregivers telling you) or implicit (i.e., the way you were treated; the way your caregivers treated their own emotions). Crying is for weak people. I shouldn’t get upset about something so small. I’m too sensitive. I need to keep how I’m feeling to myself. If I tell my partner I’m upset, they’ll just leave me. Feelings are inconvenient, unnecessary or even dangerous. I don’t have time for feelings. I don’t need to process them.
- Every day write “morning pages,” “three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing.” Make it a daily habit to tune into your thoughts and feelings, to tune into yourself.
As you’re working through a prompt, remember to be honest with yourself. Remember not to criticize or judge whatever comes up. Invite everything to the surface, and write it all down (or draw it). This is how we start to make sense of our feelings. This is how we honor ourselves.