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How to Feel Your Feelings and What That Will Do for Your Life (Everything!)

Colors of Mood

“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” ~JK Rowling

Sometimes the last thing we want to do is feel our feelings. Because feeling can hurt.

Feeling can make you cry in the laundromat.

Feeling can make your face unattractively red in the frozen food aisle.

Feeling can make you think this whole being human racket is not the best way to spend your time.

If you’ve been stuffing your feelings back into your rib cage whenever they try to break for the light, this is especially true. I know, because this is exactly what I did with my feelings for thirty-three long years.

Oh, those crafty feelings would make the occasional jail break, and then I’d vibrate with a nameless rage that ended in cell phone destruction when technology met brick wall. Or I’d start screaming and yanking at my clothes—yes, actual rending of garments—because the rush of pain was too intense to contain within my frame.

My mom is fond of saying that, for the first few years of my life, she thought she was raising a monster. As an empath in a house where emotion was treated like a ticking bomb, I was feeling emotions for the entire family, and all those feelings were processing through my eyeballs and via my vocal chords.

So I learned to stifle my sensitivity and emotion in a well-meaning but mistaken effort to protect those around me. Many of us do.

We learn that emotions aren’t safe.

We learn that crying is not appreciated.

We learn that life runs more smoothly when we pack our emotions into our spleen and forget about them.

It wasn’t until my father landed in the hospital thirty years later that my personal emotional apocalypse began.

Trapped in a hospital bed, unable to move, all the feeling and empathy my father had successfully stifled for seventy years—with work, wine, and science fiction novels—rose up to claim him. He couldn’t bear to be in his body any more, so he stopped eating until he didn’t have to be.

Pressing play on his favorite John Coltrane track or reading his favorite passages, not sure what he could hear through the morphine haze, the solidity of my emotions began to crack.

As we waited for my father to die, I roamed the hospital halls and spilled coffee on the pristine floors, feeling like I would jump out of my skin. Since writing was the only means I had of processing emotion at the time, I began to record my experiences on Twitter. Never before had I experienced such a rush of love and support.

The cracks began to widen.

After his death, my tenuous yet carefully clutched emotional control completely unraveled.

As I began to lean into the cleansing rush of feeling, rather than running determinedly the opposite direction, life began sending me the experiences I needed to learn how to surf the wave of the emotional onslaught.

I learned how to greet my feelings as friends rather than as a nameless beast out to destroy my life—or at least my morning.

I learned where emotions would hide in my body, lurking between my ribs or huddled in my belly.

I learned how to allow the literal physical feeling of my emotions to burn itself out, by simply feeling the sensation instead of judging it or make it mean something.

I learned how crucial it was to feel my way through my emotions so that I could connect with my inner wisdom.

Devoting myself to processing my feelings, rather than letting them build up until they drained me, began to shift and transform my life.

Depression became a distant memory. I stopped feeling the need to drink, heavily or at all. Quitting sugar became easy, unless I was in the first throes of grief.

(Any necessary grieving process buys me a few months of sugar, low energy and crankiness be damned. When I’m grieving, I won’t have energy or optimism anyway, so may as well eat red velvet cupcakes.)

When I try to pin down exactly how I learned to shift and flow with my feelings, rather than strapping them into concrete shoes and tossing them into my stomach, this is what shows up:

Every feeling has a message.

Maybe that message is simply to allow yourself to feel the emotion until it dissipates. Maybe the feeling is guiding you toward some action.

Once, when a boyfriend and I were talking about moving in together, fear and anxiety began flying through my body like cocaine-addled pinballs for no apparent reason. In other words, I started flipping out, which didn’t make any sense, given that this was something I’d been wanting.

When I began to explore the onslaught, I realized that there were deeper issues we needed to delve into before taking that step.

If something persists—anger, fear, anxiety—simply ask it what it wants to tell you. Sit quietly and allow the answer to appear. When you feel peaceful, you have your answer, whether or not you like what that answer says.

Processing your feelings gives you access to your own inner wisdom and innate creativity. 

If I sit down to write and nothing comes, I hunt down any feelings that I’ve been avoiding. Sometimes I’ll need to abandon work to roam the beach and cry. Sometimes I’ll give the feeling five minutes of attention and get back to work.

You already have all the answers you will ever need inside of you—and your emotions are a primary vehicle for those answers. Learning the language of your feelings will give you your own personal Sherpa through life.

All this feeling you’re carrying around may not be yours.  

Sensitive, empathic people are the proud recipients of a double whammy. You’re not just carrying around your emotions, you’re also carrying the emotions of people you walked past in the grocery store, the homeless woman you spoke with on the corner two years ago, the friend who vented last week.

Your own emotions may be crowded by the emotions of others that you absorbed unconsciously, sometimes by simply walking past them in the street.

Learn how to clear the emotions of others from your field. One way to do this is to imagine roots extending from your feet into the center of the earth. Send all the emotion and energy that doesn’t belong to you down those roots and into the earth. Feel it draining out of your field and into a place where it can be transformed. Do it daily.

Feeling your emotions brightens your life, both internally and externally.  

You already have every answer you will ever need inside of you; you just need to learn how to access that information. Answers about your relationships, your life direction, how to take care of your health, how to move toward what you want. Translating what your feelings are trying to tell you provides a direct conduit to your own higher wisdom.

It may take time and sustained attention to clear out what you were in the habit of stuffing down, but the more you lean into whatever is asking to be seen, the more your life will open and expand.

Brain gremlins won’t have as much sticky emotion to latch onto and they’ll become easier to gently set aside. What once felt heavy and overwhelming will feel light.

And everything will change.

Colors of mood image via Shutterstock

About Amber Adrian

Amber Adrian is a writer who loves helping other creative humans unlock their gifts. If you want more ways to surf the emotional onslaught, grab 24 Ways To Be Less Crazy here. Or find her at amberadrian.com. She’s convinced that a pet giraffe will solve all her problems.

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  • Andrea

    Lovely, thank you Amber – and definitely something I can identify with. Last year, I, too, started leaning into my feelings instead of running from them. It hasn’t been easy but I’m so happy I chose this path instead of bottling it all up and hoping things will just magically get better on their own.

  • Amber Adrian

    Oh, I love this! Thanks for sharing, Andrea. It can be a tough road, but it’s so much more rewarding than bottling everything up and hoping to get away with it. 🙂

  • YES! This is brilliant. I too have All the Feelings and embracing them fully is the only way I’ve ever been able to make friends/be creative/follow my dreams. If I turned them off or ignored them my life might be easier, but it would be filled with so much less joy.

  • Valentina

    Thanks so much for this lovely post, Amber, I really needed to hear this today:

    “I learned how to greet my feelings as friends rather than as a nameless beast out to destroy my life”

    That is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned but I tend to forget it so often! I hide from my feelings by keeping as busy as possible and then I wonder why I feel so cranky, judgmental, and lost. Just this morning I sat with my feelings and had a good cry (in the car, where nobody could see me) and now I feel much much better.

  • April Fox Billigmeier

    At 58, I have stuffed my feelings so much I’ve turned those feelings into disease in my body. Growing up with so much disfunction and a bipolar mother, I learned to function by stuffing my feelings. My mother was the important one in the family. The disease in my body has disabled me. I have been told I am an empath. Not fully understanding what an empath might be, I now fully understand. Your post was so enlighting to me. I ‘ve known I need some way to get all the “stuff” out of me, my feelings. Writing is the way to do that. I found your site and am planning to follow the plan you give on it. You have made me smile today…thank you.

  • Bullyinglte

    Amber, thank you for sharing your story about what I call finding your “Authentic Self”. I spent many years hiding my empathic and sensitive self, because I was abused by bullies in my youth for it. But it was painful to play the part of a chameleon, trying to be whatever someone else wanted me to be (or so I thought). It not only cost me in terms of my self esteem, but I also did many things my authentic sensitive self wouldn’t have done in order to try to please others. We are who we are. Embracing that and realizing we are happy when we are with others who love who we are (ourselves being the most important other) is one of the most important parts of my life now. I have never been happier and it’s all due to throwing the baggage away and freeing myself. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amber Adrian

    YES. THIS. THIS FOREVER.

  • Amber Adrian

    You’re so welcome, Valentina – I’m so happy it resonated with you. Why is it so hard to remember to just feel our feelings? Even after years of working with them, I still forget and am tempted to numb out or avoid crying. But then I throw a little mini-tantrum in a safe place and everything feels better. <3

  • Amber Adrian

    Oh, April – this really touched me. Thank you so much for sharing. I totally get it. Being an empath – especially when you don’t understand what that is or how to shield yourself or process what’s coming through you – can be so very rough. If I can ever be of help, please let me know. <3

  • Amber Adrian

    Yes! I love this! It’s so brave to show up fully as yourself in the world. Big high five to you. xo

  • TLC

    Thanks so much for this. After hitting rock bottom (again), I’ve finally found the courage to wake up and address my negative patterns. Allowing myself to feel and express rather than repress and explode has made all the difference. I stopped drinking alcohol because I realize that was a mechanism I used to block feelings. I allowed myself to tear up and feel grief while at the library last night instead of forcing those thoughts and emotions somewhere else. Then, I wrote about them. This five minute activity has truly changed my life. I cannot wait to explore your site and continue my path toward healing and growth.

  • Amber Adrian

    Oh, wow. Thank you so much for sharing. I had a similar experience with alcohol – and public tears. Big fist bump for doing the brave work! And if I can be of any help, please let me know! xo

  • Justina Gustafson

    That is a wonderful article. I describe myself as “emotionally detached” b/c my mother was never an emotional person and showing feelings was very rare or considered weird. She always wanted me and my brothers to be strong and never weak, yet she had anxiety problems herself. 30 years later, I am finally figuring out how to show my feelings to my husband w/o shame or embarassment. I am so sorry you lost your father. With pain comes strength, and with loss there is still hope, and someday you will see him again. 🙂

  • Leah Taboada

    Definitely room to work on personal growth with this one.

  • Mark

    Really inspiring! I hope to one day soon be able to process my emotions. Working on it

  • susan desin

    Amazing article!

  • Kalyan

    We are humans and we have the right to express our feelings at least to ourselves. Laugh when you want to, Cry when you want to and mourn when you fell like doing….make it simple. Our civilization may want us to suppress them but once we feel they are stored in us till we get them out….

  • LesAnonymes

    I have been doing this….or should I say…learning to do this…and it actually solves the issue at hand, making me feel stronger, healthier, and confident.

  • Markus

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Through reading this and other like minded articles i am beginning to find my true self

  • Iphoenix

    What an amazing article. I have found that writing poetry about what I think, feel and see happen is a wonderful way to work on my emotions. More than once when rereading them after a few months I can see the message I needed to find and work on them again. Thanks Amber.

  • Michael

    This is beautifully said and exactly where I am in my life right now! Learning how to feel again when I’m not sure I ever learnt in the first place. Or maybe I think very sensitive but had to hide that part of myself to survive from a very early age. Seeing how I have been in the past and the suffering all the resistance and avoidance have caused is difficult, especially how I lost touch with myself. Surely that is one of the most painful things we can endure as humans emotionally! But feeling the rivers of emotion thawing gradually and tentatively sensing it is safe to do so offers hope and a view into a new, fuller world, albeit with pain no doubt but with joy and love too. How long I’ve been trying to break out of my prison, so thank you for helping me take another step forward. At last!

  • Maya Kiusalaas

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now, Thank you <3