It’s incredibly common for men to skip over our emotions and jump straight into thinking. We have a tremendous amount of childhood conditioning tied up in our relationship to emotions, which supersedes our sovereignty in the moment. Oftentimes, we’re told to simply “let our emotions out,” but it’s never as simple as that because a lot of the time what is papering over the emotions is an unconscious belief that we’re not allowed to feel them in the first place.
I talked a lot about this in my recent blog, How to Deal With Unwanted Emotions, so go over there and read that first for more insight on how to think. Today, we’re going to focus on how to feel.
A Guide to Feeling for Men
Once you’re ready and you have material to feel, how do you actually access it and let it out? We don’t quite know how to let feelings come out, because we’re so scared of our own shadow that when feelings start to come out we go straight to thinking. But this only creates the problems we spoke about before.
I’m now going to give you an exercise that will walk you through exactly how to feel emotions, and we’re going to talk about the right mindset and resources to take into it, the fears that might come up, when not to do it (important), and how to set an intention.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
The Right Mindset vs. The Wrong Mindset
The wrong mindset is to go in with an agenda or be tied to an outcome or expected response. We aren’t feeling our feelings so that we can go back and win the argument, etc. etc. We’re feeling our feelings so that we can be freer in service of giving our gifts to the world. Life isn’t about being right. It’s about being happy.
The right intention is to be open to your healing, in service of your highest good. It’s not about getting your anger out to discover the right thing to say; rather, it’s about allowing movement and liquidity of the emotion.
What and how do you feel? What does it want to say?
It’s about your own feelings and your own commitment to your growth. Get it out of your brain, get it down, get it moving, and get your breath working. This is about opening up to what wants to move through you, not what you want to move through.
You want to set yourself up for success for this exercise, and this means asking yourself some important questions. Think of this as a short medicine journey — for 15-30 mins you are sort of “stepping into the ring” with yourself, not to fight, but in the sense that you’re going in, and you’re not coming out until the bell rings. It sounds intense, and it might be at first!
Here are the questions to ask yourself to prepare: Do you have the time to do this? Do you have space to move around? Privacy? If not, does it mean you have to be quiet or reserved? What about support– Do you have a friend you could call to debrief afterwards? A therapist or coach? Do you have creature comforts? A blanket if you get chilly? A glass of water?
Set yourself up for success, so that for 15-30 minutes there will be nothing to take you out of the exercise.
One of the fears, especially with the tougher emotions like grief, sadness, and anger, is that once we start to feel it, we won’t be able to turn it off. We’re also afraid that by feeling it, we’ll make it worse, and once that happens, we won’t be able to control it.
If you feel these fears, I want you to remember a couple of things. All you are doing in this exercise is feeling. These feelings exist in you whether you like it or not, and they are going to come out one way or the other. It’s much better to develop a relationship with them so they don’t become an adversary or a monster in a cage that we hide or deny. Once we begin a relationship with them, we have the option of how we express them, rather than have them come out sideways or in ways we don’t want, like ways that hurt those we love.
What we want is a kind of dexterity and familiarity with our feeling capacity. One of the concepts you’ll hear in coaching and therapy circles is pendulation — the ability to come in and go out, on-demand. Like the weight on an old-fashioned clock. That’s the skill we’re practicing here. Dipping into the emotion, feeling it a bit, and then coming back out.
When not to do it
If you don’t feel like you can devote 30-60 mins to yourself (because you should include time to integrate and relax afterwards), or you feel like you’re on the edge and you don’t have any of the resources we talked about above, maybe schedule this exercise for later and focus on resourcing yourself. Perhaps just go for a walk. Ultimately that’s really what we’re talking about here—emotional resourcing—and if you don’t feel ready, it might not be the time.
The caveat here is that it might just be the part of you that doesn’t want to feel, and there will never be a good time according to that part! Use discernment. Be brave, but not reckless.
The intention of this exercise is just to allow our feelings to move. We’re allowing them time and space, and we’re giving ourselves a chance to follow the thread of emotion, wherever it may go. This means we have to be clear that we aren’t here to judge anything that comes up as bad or shameful, or good. We’re simply holding space for our own emotional fluidity and our own unexpectedness to have its way with us. After you do this a few times, you may actually discover it can even be fun to feel. Trust me!
It has been theorized that all emotions are part of the same river. The more we shift from our thinking to our body and focus on allowing and listening, the more we are served with greater ability in those challenging moments when this really matters.
It’s like lifting weights. You train for when you need those muscles. And you can train your heart, mind and spirit to feel in ways that are identical to physically working out. Here’s how:
How to do it
The main skill we’re trying to cultivate here is learning how to body listen. Below you’ll find a step-by-step process for how to get started.
1. Set a timer for 15-30 mins.
2. Sit still, in a meditative state.
3. Focus on noticing your sensation.
4. Once you feel the sensation, there’s a choice point—you can either go deeper into it, or go into thinking. Choose to go deeper into it.
5. Let the sensation in, let it move, let it out, let it go. What do I mean by letting it move? Give the sensation space by deepening your breathing, and visualize the breath helping the sensation (emotion) expand and have access to more of your body. Repeat.
6. Each time you feel through a sensation – without jumping to thinking – ask yourself, now what’s here? Now what do I notice, sensation-wise? What else? Now what must I hold space for? This is a process of allowing and being surprised by what arises, rather than controlling it. It’s about coming back, again and again, to your sensations and emotions, not your thoughts about those sensations and emotions. It takes practice.
7. Once the timer goes off, put your hands on your heart and say thank you to your body, your heart, and your truth. Well done.
The measure of success in this instance is simply sitting down and doing it. The longer you can do it, the more capacity you are cultivating.
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