#2 Feeling Our Feelings (How to do it)

(an abridged excerpt from the book)

Ughh feelings – always changing, often confusing and often out of reach of our conscious minds; getting to grips with them can be hard!

But being able to know how we are feeling is an essential life skill. I’m not even talking about knowing what to do with them –  just to know what they are, and this is already above average for the general population. Really we should learn this in school, rather than in the therapist’s office for a select few.

In this brief overview we are going to look at 3 of the reasons that feeling your feelings is important, 3 reasons we may have stopped and  a couple of ways to get in touch with them.

Reasons to feel our feelings

  1. Not being aware of our feelings can make us ill (sick) – it has been linked to higher mortality, chronic health conditions and physical pain.
  2. In order to deepen relationships we need to be emotionally intelligent; this has a big effect on our success at work and in our personal lives
  3. We cannot know ourselves and have a meaningful life without being able to get in touch with our feelings.

Reasons we may have stopped feeling our feelings

  1. It can hurt and if we push feelings down then things stay “manageable”
  2. We want to avoid conflict – better to ignore our own anger (and needs and desires) than to rock the boat
  3. This can keep us stuck and out of touch with ourselves

Ways to get in touch with our feelings

  1. Sense Your Body

When doing the exercise below try to stay as open-minded as possible and not get “into your head” too much. The goal is to connect with the feeling itself, not let our mind tell us what it is.

a) Sit somewhere quiet and comfortable, breathe and relax your body.

b) Notice if there are any sensations in your body that are more in the foreground, more obvious.

c) What is that feeling like, is it; warm, cool, light, heavy, a ball, spread out, tense, relaxed, does it have a shape, or a colour?

d) When you feel it quite clearly, say “hello” to it in your mind, and ask it if it wants anything/ has anything it wants to say. Wait with an open mind for its answer.

e) You can converse with this feeling, find a way to give it what it needs (in real life or through visualization, as relevant).

This is the abridged version of the exercise, but a really good starting point for getting in touch with your feelings. If you get stuck you can revisit this later, if it is new work for you it takes a little while to get used to.

2. Know the Words

One of the main problems my clients have when talking about their feelings is that they do not know the right word for what they are experiencing. If we are not brought up in a very emotionally-aware environment it is likely our vocabulary will be limited to very simple feelings; good, bad, stressed, sad etc.

If you are wondering what you are feeling, why not have a look at Gloria Willcox’s “Feeling Wheel” below which represents many of the common emotions, and try and find yours.

Once you have found it, accept it and acknowledge it within yourself.

Beyond the exercises above it is important to try and cultivate and open mind and an ability to accept what you are feeling. If we have made a judgment that certain feelings are unacceptable they go straight on the reject pile and play havoc under the radar, instead of just speaking to us like they are meant to.

I just want to leave you with the thought that emotions are the things that bring the world into colour. They can be subtle, nuanced and surprising. They make us human and life worth living. What are you doing to make space in your life for your feelings?

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

― Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex

#1 The Best Approach for Self Development

In this article I want to talk about the things that I have found help and hinder working on ourselves in my professional and also personal experience.

I have found that many seemingly different issues and concerns often have their roots in a few areas that are foundational to us being happy and healthy. These are a great idea to work on, rather than only focusing on whatever surface problem has popped up recently.

Broadly speaking these areas and abilities include:

Being able to tune into our feelings

Being aware of our bodies

Being kind to ourselves

Having a good level of self-esteem

Being able to accept whatever we are feeling

The ability to take enough time

Knowing what is authentic to us

Having clear minds

Knowing our values

Having the right balance of structure (i.e. our beliefs) and flexibility (i.e. the ability to adapt those beliefs as needed)

The ability to give and accept love

I’m sure there are more that I have missed out, and then there are a lot of peripheral other ones, for example; regular exercise, good diet, making good decisions, having great relationships. However, there are so many other things that impact our lives and I want to focus on the main things that impact our progress with our own development.

We can easily approach self-development in a way that actually hinders our progress in the long-term. The following examples are patterns I have seen many times over:

Some engage in self-development work to try to improve themselves because deep down they feel they are not enough. So no matter how much they work on their self-development, it never feels like enough.

Others of us may be wonderfully focused and physically and mentally aware, but not kind to ourselves. This makes the more vulnerable parts of ourselves retreat out of sight – becoming impossible to work with, leading to a stalemate.

Some of us may be in a rush to arrive at our destination already! But nothing reinforces progress so much as recognising our achievements and kindly giving ourselves the time we need to process everything and let the changes filter through our whole being.

Or the people who are wonderfully astute mentally, but have little connection with their bodies and see them as superfluous to the type of development they are interested in achieving? They will always be pulled back by lack of connection to their bodies, which are an incredible resource.

Or we may be constantly striving to give love to others, but only able to accept a little in return. We might feel comfortable working with people who are perceived as less fortunate in some way, so that there is no risk of having to open up to a reciprocal relationship. Without the ability to accept love we will lack the internal space that is needed for great self-development work, and we will probably also not fully believe we deserve to be happy and taken care of.

Do any of these ring true even a little? We would all rather play to our strengths and this often means there are some surprising blind spots in us, areas we typically work around rather than look at directly. And I get it – it’s really hard for all of us to look at areas that we may not like or that make us feel vulnerable, but if we continue to avoid them they will always hold us back. So why don’t you have a look at the above list slowly, and have a think about which one you least prefer, would rather avoid. That one should be your focus.

Before I mentioned the quality of “internal spaciousness”. Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? Like a cavity in our torso or something. This space is not a negative feeling of emptiness inside us, that is a completely different thing. This quality is a little hard to describe, but let’s compare a few things that increase or reduce the spaciousness inside us:


Increase Reduce
Acceptance Harsh judgement/ rejection
Self-esteem Self-criticism
Allowing time Rushing on too hastily
Being open-minded Being very closed-minded
Breathing fully Shallow sips of air

The feeling that you get when reading the first column can show you what having internal spaciousness feels like (and the second column, the lack of it).

What this space does, is allow us to be completely and fully aware of our feelings and experience. It gives emotions the space they need to transform and express themselves, and thoughts the space they need to fully develop. This spaciousness can be thought of a little as the flexibility people allow within themselves, but it also requires kindness to ourselves too.

So be kind, be spacious and don’t forget to celebrate your successes! Self-development is a long road and it shouldn’t be all grind, or all just in one direction to the detriment of all others. And above all – at least sometimes – it should be fun.

Self Development; Not for the Faint of Heart

When I am asked what I do, I have habitually refrained from saying I work in self-development, and not just because I don’t really want to hear all about someone’s problems when I’m at a party. More so, because it is a pretty broad category that is hard for people to get a hold on.

So why in engage in self-development? Aren’t we good enough just as we are? Well I believe we can be good enough and still work on ourselves because life is about learning and expansion. Although they say that if you are standing still you are falling behind, I believe we should engage in this work out of love of exploring more of life and ourselves and enjoying new challenges, rather than out of fear.

What self-development is could be defined differently for each of us at different times throughout the day. Is it self-care? Yes. Is it having the courage to ask someone we like out on a date? Yes. Is it trying to move beyond our comfort zone. Yes, but it is also knowing when to give ourselves a break and rest.

So many things can be involved in our own development, because it is about living life to the full, taking care of ourselves, being self-aware, trying to be good people, create meaningful connections, work towards a purpose, be expressive, be creative, be kind and have fun. So… just all of life then.

It does not have to be doing yoga, being skinny, reading the latest self-development book (I take that back, please read mine!), doing charity work – it does not have to be anything. It just is anything that makes us more fulfilled, balanced and self-aware people.