I remember the first time that I heard, “Feelings give you information.” Or rather, I read it, because I had sent a distraught text to my therapist about feelings that were coming up for me, and she simply texted back: Feelings give you information.
I just sat there stunned, turning over this idea in my mind. It opened up a tiny bit of curiosity. I pondered if maybe my feelings weren't enemies or problems to be solved.
I later learned, through the work of Dr. Jonice Webb (author of Running on Empty and Running On Empty No More), that if you grew up in a family with low emotional attunement, it's pretty common for feelings like anger, sadness, or even joy to feel threatening and shameful.
However, when we tune out or shut down our emotions, we lose access to one of the most critical systems our body has for relaying information.
Feelings aren't dictated by rules and logic. You feel what you feel. They're sensations that we attach thoughts and meaning to.
This is not to say they're made up or worthless. Feelings give us a ton of information about what we need/want/value. But feelings can be wildly different from what it seems like they “should” be.
They can be messy, multiple at once, and very different for separate people in the same circumstances.
You don't actually have to ACT on how you feel, thank goodness. (This is sometimes very hard to remember.) And you don't have to feel what anyone else thinks you should feel.
Feelings Point to Needs
Feelings are our body's way of sending out signals: ‘Hey, there's something important here. Pay attention!' With practice, we can start understanding the links between what we feel and what we value, what we believe, and what we want.
But feelings can be really overwhelming – especially if you've spent a long time avoiding or suppressing your emotions! It takes time to build your capacity for feeling your feelings, funny as that may sound.
Drawing and doodling is one way I create a little space between myself and my feelings and build that capacity. It helps me process big waves of emotion.
You can grow your ability to feel your feelings and then make choices about how you act on them. At first, it might feel overwhelming, but the feeling will pass. If you're sad and start crying, for instance, you will not be sad forever. The emotion will come up, feel very strong, and then dissipate.
If you don't continue feeding the emotion more stories and more thought, you can instead feel the wave pass over you. Then, once you're more settled, you can check in and ask yourself what brought about such a big reaction. Is there something to learn there? You might try journaling or doodling to explore your thoughts.
As you begin to see your feelings as a source of information rather than a threat, you'll find you have much more ability to understand yourself. You'll have more clarity in your decisions because you know what you want and what you don't want. And you'll experience more joy and richness in life because you'll really feel those joyful feelings in the moment instead of constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.