All the Feels

As the facilitator of my agency’s Women’s Recovery Group I begin every session by asking each member to state their name and then share their answer to my question of the day.  For instance, I ask them to share something they’re grateful for, or to name something they’ve done to support their recovery (or depending on my mood, something lighthearted such as naming a favorite movie character).  This serves as a nice ice breaker and ensures that even those who are more reserved in nature participate in the discussion. Sometimes for the “go around question” I ask them to name an emotion they currently feel as well as something they need.  I also explain that taking time to answer these questions at least once a day increases both awareness of emotions and problem solving skills. Whether you are someone in recovery or not, there is much to be gained from making a habit of identifying and expressing your emotions and needs.  

At first glance those two questions named above may seem simplistic, but often they are difficult to answer.  Why is this? I’m sure there are countless reasons, but today I am going to discuss three. I will also offer a few helpful tips regarding communication, as well as a personal note from yours truly.  

The first, and maybe most obvious reason for the difficulty in answering the above questions, is that we become busy managing our daily lives.  Sometimes it seems there are a million and one tasks to accomplish on any given day, and survival becomes the name of the game!  I truly believe that many of the items on our daily to-do-lists are good and necessary things. It’s important to work, do household chores, make dinner, volunteer, exercise, walk the dog, and taxi kids to practices, appointments, and events.  Those in and of themselves are not problematic. But in the midst of the busyness we rarely prioritize checking in with ourselves. During the grind of life we forget to take a moment to pause and ask the questions, “What emotion am I feeling right now?” And, “What is it I need?” 

Perhaps some of you are rolling your eyes or thinking, “Spoken like a therapist.”  If that’s you, just hang with me and know that putting a name to what we feel has great value for both ourselves as individuals and our relationships.  For ourselves, there is a degree of empowerment and clarity that comes from being able to specifically label what we feel. Identifying and labeling the emotion then enables us to effectively communicate this to others- friends, co-workers, spouses, and children.  For instance, “I feel overwhelmed with all of my work requirements,” communicates a specific emotion and sets the stage for a productive conversation. As we will discuss in a moment, articulating what you feel plays a key role in identifying what you need. If you haven’t already, start the habit of checking in with yourself throughout the day- label those emotions!  

The second reason these questions are difficult to answer is because acknowledging our feelings can be painful.  Life is full of many moments: some of love, joy, and happiness; some of tears, anger, hurt, and trauma.  It’s natural to push back painful memories. For some, this is done out of necessity or in order to survive a stressful or traumatic event.  The danger lies in this becoming a habit as it creates a disconnection from our emotions all together. It’s important to remember that although feelings can be uncomfortable, they are not the enemy.  Indeed, our emotions have purpose and value. Purpose because they move us to action in regard to our relationships with others; value because they are a significant part of what it means to be a human being created in the  image of God. How you feel matters. Make a commitment to no longer hide, minimize, or deny your emotions- you’ll be surprised at the relief this can bring.  

This moves us to the third reason for difficulty: What we need at any given time is subject to change.  Identifying emotions is certainly the first step as doing so offers clues to figuring out what we need.  For instance, if you’re feeling lonely the likely need is connection with others. However, sometimes we may have different needs in response to the same emotion.  Consider the following: when feeling anxious the need may be taking a quiet walk or the need may be talking to a close friend. As with labeling emotions, the more we practice reflecting on our needs, the quicker we will become at identifying them. 

As I said above, identifying emotions and needs is not only for our own personal benefit, but for the edification of our relationships as well.  The second part of the process then is the communication of these to the people in our lives. For some, this comes naturally- for others, not so much.  Wherever you fall on that continuum, here are a few helpful thoughts and tips for creating (or improving) healthy communication: 

  1.  Let go of pride.  We like to think we can handle our stuff on our own, but the reality is that we were not meant to do this.  People need people. It does not make us weak to express what we feel or to ask for what we need. Conversely, this becomes a great strength when we are able to do so. 
  2. Remember that vulnerability begets vulnerability.  When we are able to honestly share with those in our lives this leads not only to solutions, but to in an increase of intimacy and connection in the relationship.  As I’ve found personally and in my groups at work, one person’s openness paves the way for others to be open as well.  
  3. If all of this seems weird or unfamiliar, a good place to start is by using a simple “I statement.”  For example, “I feel frustrated because I have been interrupted numerous times while working on my project.”   The key to an “I statement” is the third word- naming an actual emotion. I know it has become common phrasing to say things such as, “I feel like I could pull my hair out.”  While that certainly conveys a strong message, it misses the point of labeling the emotion. You can then follow up the “I statement” with an expression of need. In the above case one could say, “What I need is an hour to myself.”    

In a previous post (Recovery Lessons) I asserted that anything discussed in my recovery groups is equally relevant and applicable to my life.  Certainly this entire post is no exception. So here is my moment of vulnerability. I would say in general I have remained calm and adaptable to all the changes taking place over the past few weeks.  However, yesterday and today I have felt antsy, unsettled, and edgy. To label the emotion I would say I have felt irritable. As I’m sure is true of many of you, I am a lover of routine and structure.  And while I am not an introvert, it has become quite apparent that I value my alone time to engage in the activities I enjoy. 

With everyone being at home together, routine and alone time has looked quite different from “normal life.”  Today my need has been for time alone to write, which thankfully, has happened. In fact, I may have found a new favorite writing space; the quietness of my daughter’s upstairs bedroom has been disturbed only by the trickle of the aquarium filter and the panel of windows in front of her desk has let in a wonderful amount of light.  Writing up here has been like a breath of fresh air…which, speaking of, is something else I need. As I think about it, a run is sounding pretty good right about now. Time to take a break from writing and spend some needed time on the road.       

Published by Nicole Byrum

Hello! I have been a therapist in the community mental health field for the last 13 years. During this time I have worked with numerous women in recovery from substance abuse. It was this work, along with my relationship with Jesus, that inspired me to write my first book, Remade: Living Free. I have found writing to be a joy and it is my aim through this website to continue to share my faith, insights, and hope with my readers. Some fun facts about me: I have been married for 15 years and have 2 children; I love to read, run and cook; Even though I have lived in Ohio for most of my life I am not a fan of cold weather!

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