Many of us don’t grow up with a clear understanding of feelings, much less how to express them. But few things are more important than understanding and expressing our feelings effectively. If we don’t know what we feel, then it’s hard to be in touch with our needs. If we’re not in touch with our needs, then communicating our needs to others becomes a spin of the roulette wheel. And if we can’t appropriately and authentically communicate our needs, the odds of another person meeting our needs plummet.
We grow up discouraged from expressing our feelings because feelings can be unruly and unpredictable. When we do express them, they’re not always welcomed. The other day when, when my nine-year-old son told another boy how he was feeling, that boy proceeded to say, with a smirk and in a sing-song voice, “Aw, tell me what you feeeeel.” Having feelings is often a risky business from a very age. We’re expected to present an invulnerable facade, in many contexts. Over time, that can end up alienating us from our own feelings.
But if you’re interested in having a rich, fulfilling life where you can love others, then feeling literacy is a non-negotiable relational superpower. As we enter adulthood, and intimate relationships, the need to develop greater feeling literacy grows.
Being able to recognize what you’re truly feeling about something allows you to know yourself. It helps you share yourself genuinely with another. This can impact your personal health for the better because it allows you to listen to and decipher the signals that your body is always giving you from more places than just your head, eg. your rational, thinking brain.
Emotions, feelings, and body sensations are the body’s way of conveying important information that we may not be able to access through the intellect alone. In his book “The Body Keep Score,” Bessel Van Der Kolk writes about the ways trauma is encoded in our bodies. If we can tune into our bodies, and the feelings circulating within them, it gives us clues as to where we need to focus our own attention. If we don’t tune in, we can end up repressing critical data, suppressing it, hiding it from ourselves, or denying it. Then, we miss out on the opportunity to read the signals that can help us heal and be healthier.
Research has shown we have “three” interlocking intelligence systems, encompassed in the head, heart, and gut. These three parts of our bodies communicate with one another in an ongoing, two-way dialogue. Feeling literacy means we prioritize the multiple ways our own body communicates with us. We don’t just try to “think” our way through life. We listen to our own emotional and somatic intelligence. We use the information we gather from all three of our “brains” as cues to guide us to take better care of our entire selves.
Feeling literacy is a combination of knowing the words for feelings and of being able to connect these words to what you’re actually experiencing on an emotional or energetic level, but also in a concrete, physical way. What do you feel at a particular moment when something stressful upsets you? What do you sense in your throat? Your chest? Your gut? Your shoulders? Your jaw? Your legs and arms? Do you feel tingling? Heaviness? Tension? Heat? A prickly sensation? Nausea? Awareness of these experiences contributes to feeling literacy. Our bodies tell us things about our internal and external environment, and about our needs at any given moment. They also tell us about other “similar” experiences we’ve had in our pasts and how we’ve handled them in order to keep ourselves safe.
When you say, “I feel like I’m going to fail,” you’re giving an interpretation. When you follow the words,“I feel” with the word, “like” you’re distancing from a feeling by comparing it to an intellectual concept or construct. There’s no “like” when you clearly, directly connect with the energy of your feelings, or with their somatic, physical expression. Thinking is one way we tend to distance from our feelings. Most of us understand feelings theoretically, but we have a really hard time simply saying what we feel, or else we don’t really know what we feel because we’ve been taught to dismiss feelings.
By prioritizing your feelings and emotions as much as you do cognition, logic, and reason, you can increase your feeling literacy.
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 10, 2019
It’s never too early to start talking about Father’s Day on The Good Men Project. We’re looking for sponsors and contributors for our #ModernDayDad campaign. https://t.co/WJvKqq2kTe pic.twitter.com/j66LNCY0VG
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 11, 2019
We celebrate Gay Pride all year long. But this year, we’re doing some special programing for a large-scale campaign #LoveEqually. We’re looking for both sponsors and contributors. Check it out! https://t.co/tkraXFPxLL pic.twitter.com/X2FlBEZb8Y
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 11, 2019
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