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Make Your Feelings the Star of the Show

Updated: Apr 15

Throughout the years of being a therapist and sitting with hundreds of people, I noticed that we use a few words to describe a lot of feelings. Identifying feelings with more precision than just the broad "umbrella feelings" you've described can offer several valuable benefits:

  1. Increased Self-Awareness: When individuals can pinpoint their emotions with greater accuracy, they gain a deeper understanding of themselves. This heightened self-awareness can lead to better self-regulation and improved emotional intelligence.

  2. Effective Communication: Using specific emotional vocabulary allows individuals to communicate their inner experiences more clearly to others. This can facilitate better understanding and empathy in interpersonal relationships, whether it's with friends, family, or colleagues.

  3. Enhanced Problem Solving: Recognizing and naming nuanced emotions enables individuals to better analyze the root causes of their feelings. This can lead to more effective problem-solving strategies, as individuals can address underlying issues rather than just reacting to surface-level emotions.

  4. Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Identifying feelings accurately empowers individuals to choose healthier coping mechanisms. Instead of resorting to avoidance or harmful behaviors, they can implement strategies tailored to address their specific emotional needs.

  5. Personal Growth: Delving into the subtleties of one's emotions fosters personal growth and development. It allows individuals to explore the complexities of their inner world, leading to greater introspection and insight over time.

  6. Relationship Building: When individuals can articulate their emotions more precisely, it fosters deeper connections with others. This level of emotional intimacy can strengthen relationships and create a supportive environment for mutual growth and understanding.

While "umbrella feelings" like sadness, anger, and happiness serve as useful starting points for emotional expression, delving deeper into the spectrum of emotions can enrich one's emotional experience and promote overall well-being.


So, what do we do then? We expand our vocabulary so when we feel a little lost, or that it doesn't quite fit, or I am trying to describe this...we actually can!


Here's a roadmap to the deeper dive. Pause and reflect on the under currents.


What does this feeling (EX: anxiety) feel like?

Are there images or stories connected to the story?

How is my body reacting to this feeling?

Have I felt this before, if so when?

Do I feel safe and comfortable exploring the feeling more?


Let's go with a real life story. A client was feeling very anxious about moving to a new city. All he could say was, "Everything is going to be new and there is so much uncertainty. I don't know where anything is and I don't know how I am going to make friends. I am really excited, but I also am anxious." Everything revolved around the umbrella term "anxious."


What does this anxiety feel like? - It has a nervous energy to it. It feels like I'm floating and my feet aren't on the ground. It feels hyper vigilant, trying to figure everything out.


Are there images or stories connected to the story? - I am telling myself over and over "This is going to be hard." It's a stretch to think about the good opportunities as well.


How is my body reacting to this feeling? I'm ruminating on all the decisions that I have to make that I can't sleep. I'm tired and my shoulders are always tense. I keep taking deep breaths but it's hard to relax.


Have I felt this before, if so when? Yes, when I went to college. It all turned out great, but months leading up to the move I was anxious and nervous. Not knowing what to expect terrifies me.


Do I feel safe and comfortable exploring the feeling more? I want to think more deeply about where this is coming from and why it happens, but I don't want to burden my friends with all these thoughts. I keep them inside, except for in here, therapy. I do want to understand this though.


From this we were able to identify a lot of the feelings (aka prongs of the umbrella) that were occurring.


I am scared I won't make friends.

I am worried this will be a hard transition.

I am tired from all the ruminating.

I can't relax because my body is tense.

Having a social life is important to me and I am afraid it will take a long time.

I have a desire to talk to my friends about this. I also feel self conscious about it because they are so happy for me.

I am so excited about the new job. I feel curious, engaged and optimistic.


AHHH.....now we understand all the parts of this person. There are a variety of feelings bubbling up that are labeled anxiety. Here's a real opportunity to address each of these feelings in a new way, independently. One by one we can talk more in depth about them, how they can be managed, appreciated, act as an agent of change and be integrated.


Sometimes we can do this scan in 60 seconds, or it may take 60 minutes or 60 days, but the value of self awareness and understanding feelings may make all the difference in how you think about yourself. Feelings are teachers, they show us what is happening in our environment. We can then use them to think about how we want to view things, change things, react to things and be engaged with the world.


Here's an example from this client: Having a social life is important to me and I am afraid it will take a long time.

By exploring this we learned that it felt hard to make friends early in life. He had a desire to fit in and tried many social activities and sports. Every time he started something new he worried about how he presented, his skill level, his sense of humor and the way others perceived him that it became paralyzing. His story was reliving itself over and over and over. He had forgotten that he did make friends, in fact very close ones. He was good at socializing and often was asked to do things. He recalled that when we really liked the activity that he was happy, so that meant not doing things that didn't feel good. The worry and anxiety had buried all the good, and we had to dig it up!


Through this process we turned his fears into opportunities by strengthening his sense of self and building his confidence. We took each feeling and gave it space to breathe and be expressed.


Don't be afraid of your feelings, instead let them guide you to a deeper understanding of yourself. Here are more feelings to think about!


Hopeful, sensitive, playful, suspicious, withdrawn, guilty, abandoned, embarrassed, isolated, bored, indifferent, peaceful, courageous, loving, confused, lonely, avoidant, rejected, amused, violated, respected, fulfilled, hesitant, remorseful, amazed and proud. (And the list goes on).


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