How does that make you feel?
This is the classic therapy question that is often used to poke fun at therapy. However repetitive it might seem, it is still a worthy question! Once we have identified our feelings, we can identify our needs, and start moving forward.
A list of feeling words can be helpful to name what it is we are feeling. My favorite lists have the words divided up by category and intensity to help us quickly identify the exact word to describe how we feel. Here are two examples.
After identifying the feeling, add “because” or “when” and name what is evoking this feeling in you. Preparing a sentence like, “I feel frustrated when I am interrupted” not only helps us to better understand ourselves, but it also prepares us for communicating with others.
What are you needing right now?
After identifying how you feel, I encourage you to think about what you need. This list can be helpful in identifying what need is not being met in that moment. Maybe you need to be heard, to be soothed, to understand, or to be included. Sometimes we can communicate our needs to others and the needs can be met! For example, telling a friend how you feel frustrated when interrupted and you need to feel heard. The friend was unaware of the behavior and now can make an effort to not interrupt.
At other times, communicating won’t result in a met need and we can look at what we can do to meet that need for ourselves. This may mean we provide our own soothing, create new relationships that do meet our needs, or change our expectations. In the previous example, we may go to a different friend when we need to be heard but continue to enjoy the other positive qualities we like about our interrupting friend. We have changed our expectations of the interrupting friend and found a new way to meet our need. We also may decide we only want friends in our life that are able to listen without interrupting.
I just need to not feel this way!
This is a common and understandable response. Being human means that we have feelings and needs and to neglect this part of our experience places us in a trap. We deny our humanity but yet it does not ever disappear. It rather rumbles beneath the surface and shows itself in subtle ways. Repressed emotions and needs can show up as irritability, anger, numbing, addictions, controlling others and depression.
Sometimes we avoid our feelings because we think we might get stuck in them. When I see people stuck, it is when they are not feeling their feelings. It is like a big dam blocking the current of emotion from where it needs to go. Once feelings are recognized and accepted as true in this moment, movement forward can begin.
There are many people that see the absence of feelings and needs as a goal and admirable. It seems that when we expect ourselves to be “superhuman” without feelings and emotions, falling short in anyway leads us to believe we are now less than human and we feel ashamed.
I encourage modifying the expectations we have of ourselves and allowing us to simply be human, not more than or less than. We hurt others, we get hurt, we succeed, we make mistakes, we give and we need. Once we can accept that we are in fact human where hurt and errors are part of the journey, we can open ourselves up to exploring those parts of ourselves that need attention.Images courtesy of LatPro.com and Wordle.net