Feelings and expressing them

For many people, feelings are often mysterious and confusing.

Some people might feel overwhelmed by their feelings or unable to control them. Others may feel rather numb and may experience themselves as being unable to identify their feelings or may just not feel much of anything. People respond to different situations with both feelings and thoughts and whilst connected they are in fact different.

Feelings relate to a person’s body sensations and emotions

Thoughts relate to ideas, beliefs and rationalisations.

Feelings and emotions are experienced in the body

The ability of a person to identify and be in contact with their feelings and emotions is a fundamental and essential aspect of healthy functioning. In addition to thoughts and perceptions, feelings and emotions are major sources of information that enable a person to make sense of their lives and can tell them what they need and want at any particular moment.

People who come to counselling and psychotherapy often do not have a clear sense of what they want and need and their feelings are often confused. In order to function better, it is not only important for a person to gain clarity about what they are thinking, it is also important for them to know what and how they are feeling. For example, when a person becomes more aware of what they are feeling, it is often much easier for them to know what they need and how to get it.

Feelings both give us information and influence our experience and behaviour.

For example, feeling pain usually indicates that a person needs to take care of themselves in some way; feeling love can help a person feel close to and connected to people and enable them to feel that they belong; and feeling inspired and motivated can enable a person to move towards the achievement of their goals.

Becoming more aware of what is going on in the body is an approach that can be very useful in helping people identify their feelings and what they mean. For example, anxiety might be experienced as a knot in the stomach; grief and loss as an aching in the chest area; anger as tension in the arms and hands and heat in the whole body; stress as tightness in the neck and shoulders.

Some feelings become problematic when people are unable to experience or express the fullness of their feelings and some when they are unable to regulate the intensity of what they are feeling and expressing.

If people stop themselves feeling or expressing something, or conversely are unable to stop themselves feeling or expressing, neither their physiological or psychological need will be met. They inevitably feel stuck and the feeling will linger in some form or another. Furthermore, if it is a painful feeling that they are resisting, an additional consequence may be that they feel increasingly anxious about the feeling that they have some how shut off or pushed aside.

Many relational problems are around issues of communication

The most important element of communication in relationships is usually around what a person is feeling emotionally. Most people need to feel heard and understood by others, especially in close or intimate relationships. It is sometimes easy to assume that other people know what we are feeling, and for the most part, the only way to know how another person is feeling is if they either demonstrate how they are feeling or speak about it.

For example, people sometimes build up resentment towards their partner because they feel that their partner does not understand them or seems oblivious to their needs and wants. This often turns out to be because they have not in fact expressed their feelings, needs or wants to their partner; instead they have been hoping or assuming that their partner will know without being told.

In conclusion, becoming more aware of one’s feelings, emotions and thoughts and finding the most creative and adaptive way to express them is one of the key tasks of healthy and productive living. Through the process of counselling or psychotherapy, a person can become more able to identify their thoughts and experiences and learn how to express them in a way that meets their needs and supports their relationships.