Name That Feeling. Right now. As you paused to read this. As you have been scrolling down your page scanning posts to read. Are you curious, intrigued, bored, impatient, hopeful, disappointed……? What is the feeling you were feeling then? Now? An hour ago?
Identifying feelings and emotions is a skill. It needs to be learned. And practiced. Which I have been doing for two years and five months now. I still struggle to Name That Feeling. If it was a game show, I would be the last contestant to buzz in. This continues to be a very real side effect of numbing and medicating emotional pain for most of my life.
Feelings are exactly that. Feelings. An emotional response. What they are not is right or wrong, fact or truth. When God created humans in His image, He intentionally gave us emotions. All of them. Even Jesus, the only sinless, perfect person to ever live on earth experienced feelings that many of us consider sinful, negative, to be avoided. Anger. Grief. Sorrow. Loneliness. These feelings were a part of the life of God’s Son, and yet I chose to do everything I could to not make them a part of mine.
In one of my early counselling sessions, my therapist handed me a list of feelings. I handed it back to him. He didn’t take it. I was left holding the paper in my hand. I sighed. As per his instructions, I reluctantly closed my eyes and let my finger fall on the chart. Whichever word my finger landed on, I was to share a time when I experienced that feeling. Oddly enough, the feeling was distressed. I looked up, smiled and said “I feel distressed right now talking about identifying feelings.” Aha. Win for me. He did laugh. But then he asked me to remember the first time I felt that way. That took longer to answer. And I always dislike paying for those extended moments of silence in the counsellor’s office. I also still disliked talking about feelings. Or having them. It was vulnerable. Risky. It came too close to uncovering the buried monsters that I worked tirelessly to push back down every time they reached towards the surface. It was much more comfortable to share my story as a disconnected bystander, not the person living in and experiencing the pain. I was still afraid of my boogeyman becoming exposed even though I no longer wanted to be held in its grip.
Not being able to identify my feelings naturally led to not being able to express or experience my feelings. I seldom cried or laughed. Generally, I lacked emotional responses to people and situations. I have been perceived as snobbish and cold hearted. No one saw the terrified and battered little girl hiding within my adult body who just didn’t know how to access her emotional database.
When we had to make the heartbreaking decision to put our dog down two months into our recoveries, a few tears threatened to escape from my eyes. My husband praised me for showing sadness. He wanted and needed to share his emotional experience with me, but I didn’t know how to do that. So he encouraged me to just be sad in the moment because I was sad in the moment. I squirmed with the unfamiliarity of purposefully opening my heart to unpleasant emotions.
Experiencing, identifying and expressing feelings is an essential skill to learn in recovery. Upon completion and continued practice of an empowerment exercise on identifying and communicating feelings in Dr. Doug Weiss’ Partner’s Recovery Guide for partner’s of sex addicts, I have learned:
When I had a feeling and didn’t know what it was, I could ignore it or suppress it until it went away. I had many methods of doing this. The problem with that is I also could not meet my own real needs. I didn’t know what they were.
It is easier for me to prevent relapsing into old unhealthy behaviours because I know better how to handle and manage my feelings now that I am more successful at identifying them. If I am hungry or desiring dessert, it is okay (well, kind of) to eat a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter and chocolate chips. If I am bored or anxious, it is not. Then I need to find a healthier alternative to medicating my emotional pain such as going for a walk.
If I have relapsed and find myself staring guiltily or woefully at an empty chocolate chip container, it is easier for me to go back through my day and track down what happened. What emotions preceded my setback. Perhaps this time I was disappointed or angry that my husband hadn’t made supper so I stuffed my mouth full of soothing yumminess before grudgingly beginning to prepare a meal.
Identifying and communicating my feelings, whether internally or externally, has improved all my relationships. With my husband, kids, friends, co-workers. It allows and creates more intimacy. Life is just better.
So, yes, I have been learning these things. Learn-ing. Not completely learn-ed. A visit to my kitchen would show you that. But that’s okay. I don’t need to experience every feeling on my list in one day. I just need to open my heart and mind to experience the feeling of the moment whatever it may be. A feeling doesn’t have the power to hurt me. Or betray me. But a feeling does have the ability to expand my love and gratitude for living a full and abundant life in God’s glorious creation.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: ………….. A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1,4