A primer on how to feel emotions with your body
I’ve been walking through a three step process of how to deal with our emotions: (1) Identify them; (2) Feel them; (3) Express them. So, if you’re having trouble identifying your emotions, then remember that emotions always have a physical component. If you don’t know what you are feeling, doing a “check-in” with your body is always a good starting point. Stop moving, and take a few minutes to pay attention to every part of your body and notice how it’s feeling.
Second, if you’ve identified an emotion, know that there is always a physical component to it, and it is important to give expression to it. Ask yourself, “What does this emotion want me to do physically?”, and then find a way to do it healthily.
Here are some examples:
Sadness: If you’re feeling your sadness, your eyes will probably be cast down. Your shoulders will droop. You might put your hands to your head, or close your eyes, scrunch up your face and gnash your teeth. You frown. You will want to sit or lay down. If you’re really feeling it, you might cry. You will probably want to groan or sigh or sob. This is called grieving, and it is a healthy thing to do.
Joy: If you’re feeling your joy, your eyes will open wide, your mouth will gape open. You might look up, and you’ll probably want to raise your hands or pump your fists. More than likely it will feel unnatural to stay seated, and getting up and dancing is definitely not out of the question. And you’ll also make NOISE! You’ll laugh, yell, holler and scream. (Americans tend to be good at expressing joy, but only at sporting events. Feeling joy about anything other than sports is inappropriate and weird.) This is called celebrating, and it, too, is very healthy.
Anger: If you’re feeling your anger, you’ll feel a rush of energy. Your blood will pump faster. Your muscles will tense, and your hands will probably clench into fists. You’ll breathe quick, shallow breaths, your lips will tense up, and your teeth and jaw will clench. If you’re like me, the first sign of anger is a desire to do something physically destructive, like throw, hit, or smash something. If nothing else, you may want to wave and fling your arms around just to release some of that energy. And you will groan, scream and yell, fiercely and intensely. All of this is expressing your anger. Because anger is particularly dangerous, it is important that we be careful with it and submit it to God. But make no mistake: It is a God-given emotion, and learning to express it well is very important to our spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational well-being.
Notice something about all of these? They make themselves known. If you do these things, they’re obvious to anyone else who’s paying attention. And they’re noisy!
Try it out!
This may sound a little weird, but I strongly suggest it: If you know that you’re feeling one of these emotions, but you’re feeling bottled up and unsure what to do with it, then try doing these things physically. You may feel a little embarrassed or think that it’s stupid or fake, but I’m telling you: Just try it. All by yourself, just try on different facial expressions or bodily movements to see if some of them fit what your heart is feeling. You might be surprised.
(Seriously, if you’ve spent your whole life learning to cover up your real emotions with bodily expressions that don’t really match what’s going on inside, doesn’t it make sense that trying to re-learn healthy emotional expression would feel weird and uncomfortable?)
And anyway, it’s fun!
Can you tell I love emotions?