How to Use Your Emotions: 3 Real-Life Examples

I wish I knew how many times I have said, “Use your feelings.” Several times every single week I either write or say that phrase.

Even though I constantly tell people this, I am well aware that it’s not so easy to understand what it means. So, let’s talk about it now.

First, a little primer on feelings. Here are some fun feeling facts to lay the groundwork.

4 Facts About Feelings

  • Feelings are your body’s natural feedback system. Every emotion you have is a message from your body. Emotions are your body’s way of communicating with you.
  • Feelings inform you about what you want and need, and they also tell you what you don’t want and don’t need. For example, enjoyment tells you to seek more of whatever it is you’re enjoying. Anger tells you to protect yourself. Fear is the classic fight-or-flight message. Sadness says, “You’re losing/lost something.” The message of pride is, “You’ve done, or you are, something good.”
  • When you grow up in a family that does not encourage or allow for the expression and validation of your feelings, which is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), you are essentially being taught to hide and ignore your own emotions. With your feelings walled off, you will go through your entire adult life ignoring the most valuable expressions of your deepest self: your feelings.
  • Non-CEN people, on the other hand, grow up with unhindered access to the feeling messages from their deepest selves. When you have access, you have the opportunity to use your feelings as they were meant to be used: to inform, direct, guide, stimulate, and empower you.

So, now that we’ve refreshed on how your feelings can be useful to you, you may still find it difficult to imagine the process of using them. How exactly does one go about putting their feelings into practice? I have helped hundreds of people gain access to their emotions and learn to use them. I’m going to share some examples of people with Childhood Emotional Neglect who have already been through the CEN healing steps.

3 Examples Of Using Your Feelings

James

James was laid off from his job as a software developer because his company downsized due to COVID-19. Shocked, James never thought he would find himself in this position. He immediately began looking for a new job and updating his resume. But each time he began to work on the update, he got a foggy feeling in his brain that made him feel exhausted. Time and time again, it kept happening. And then James woke up. He realized his body was trying to tell him something. Allowing himself to sit with the feeling, feel it, and think deeply into what it meant, he realized that he had not enjoyed the job he was just laid off from. He had performed it like a robot, effectively going through the motions with a near absence of joy or reward. James realized that his body was telling him that looking for another software job was not a good idea. In the end, James made a conscious decision to take another software job for financial reasons, but to also take online classes on the science of climate change so that he could move in the direction of applying his computer skills to something he felt passionate about.

Kate

Kate always loved getting together with her childhood friend, Nicole. They had known each other since preschool, had gone through high school together, and had kept in touch through college and through their twenties. Now 32, Kate and Nicole tried to get together on the 3rd Friday of every month. But recently, Kate had begun to feel a low-grade, angry feeling every time the 3rd Friday was approaching. Like James did in the example above, Kate decided to pay attention. She sat down, closed her eyes, and let herself feel the anger while thinking about having dinner with Nicole. She realized that Nicole seemed to do almost all the talking while they were together. Kate became aware that their dinners had become all about Nicole, and it was difficult for Kate to get a word in about herself or her own life. Kate decided she would need to either bring this up with Nicole or purposely try to talk more to see how Nicole would react. In the end, she did both.

Jack

Jack had been divorced for 7 years, and he felt he had finally found his person. Alison had just moved in with him, and they were working on setting up his house to accommodate both of their belongings. It was a time of happiness and excitement, and they were very much in love. But Jack noticed a curious thing happening. When Alison placed one of her pieces of furniture or decorative items in a prominent spot in the house, Jack absolutely hated how it looked. Each time, he felt a sense of being encroached upon, taken over, and essentially erased. After this happened enough times, Jack finally sat down and focused on the feeling. He remembered that in his previous marriage, his wife had been a selfish, bossy sort who virtually always insisted on having things her way. Jack had eventually stopped fighting with her and had been rendered essentially helpless in that relationship. Jack’s body was warning him to never let this happen to him again. It was telling him to be careful, and to express his own wishes and needs to Alison.

How James, Kate, and Jack Used Their Feelings

In the first story, if James had ignored his feelings, that dull feeling of paralysis that overcame him every time he tried to update his resume may have spread to his next job, and with no explanation for it, he might also view it as a weakness or blame it on himself. He would also likely have ended up in another unrewarding software job and become more and more unhappy and unfulfilled.

If Kate had ignored her feelings, she may have simply drifted away from Nicole completely over time, finding their time together unrewarding and painful but without any real awareness of why, or that there might be anything she could do to correct the problem.

If Jack had continued to ignore his feelings, he may have repeated his helpless/hopeless passive stance with Alison, even though that approach was completely inappropriate in that relationship. He may have failed to speak up and stand up for his own needs and resented Alison for something she was not doing and didn’t want.

In the end, each listened to their bodies and heeded the messages of warning, and each was saved from potential mistakes, discomforts, harmed relationships, and poor decisions.

The Takeaway

If you take only one thing away from this article, I hope it is this: Your feelings are useful. There is a series of steps you can take to get in touch with your feelings and begin to honor and use them in the way James, Kate, and Jack did.

Positive feelings are useful and negative feelings are also useful. When your body talks, don’t you think you should be listening?

To learn how Childhood Emotional Neglect separates you from your feelings and sends you into adulthood with a major disadvantage, see the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is usually invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Jonice

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Angela - January 17, 2021 Reply

I find I am really good at doing my own thing but as soon as a project or activity involves another I have a habit of jumping into to do all the work or all the effort to make something a success, and my emotions lag behind eventually emerging in frustration. I’m getting better but it’s stopped me from trusting myself working with others and collaborating and hanging out with friends.

    Jonice - January 18, 2021 Reply

    Dear Angela, you could try to identify the feelings that drive you to take over. Becoming aware of the feelings gives you the opportunity to understand and manage them.

Gretchen - January 17, 2021 Reply

When I sit with my feelings, I notice that I am angry when others express a need or want for my time, help or engagement. But when I am with myself, especially in the context of nature or doing something creative (singing, painting), I am very content and feel a sense of solidarity with myself. I am aching for so much time with myself, and it feels good to give voice to it and give it to myself. At the same time, I cannot help but feel a bit selfish or guilty when I am saying “no” to very wonderful, loving people in my life. I am wondering if this is a season. My gut feeling is that I need more practice “showing up” simply with myself, and that with time, I will be more able to welcome others into my life with whom I can practice being my true self. Does this resonate with your experience with CEN or with that of any of your clients?

    Jonice - January 18, 2021 Reply

    Yes, it does resonate with my experience with CEN people. It sounds like your feelings are telling you what you need.

DJ - January 17, 2021 Reply

I have been emotionally neglected all of my life by mother and father and then ex husband. I am 74 yrs old. Apparently I passed all of the on to my daughter. I never wanted a daughter because I didn’t want her to turn out like me which was in the “bad” category. I knew something was wrong all of my life and it did center on my mother but we looked normal, etc. My grandmother committed suicide when my mother was 7 yrs. She was fostered out until age 16 when she moved in with a sister who was 6 years older and her husband. She had no modeling of emotions and it was during the Depression. My mother married someone just as emotionally disabled as she. I was the oldest and I think I got the worst of it. Secrets were also a big part of my mother’s life as in not knowing how my grandmother died until I was 28.

I had 2 sons and a daughter. Both of my sons have predeceased me, both tragic deaths. The daughter is completely detached from me and has been angry since probably about l0. She now has 3 beautiful children but avoids taking calls to talk to her or my grandchildren. She wouldn’t even tell me she was pregnant. She says hearing my voice or seeing my handwriting is very upsetting to her so she avoids contact with me. My whole life I have tried not to do what my mother did but somehow it appears it happened anyway. What or how can I improve my relationship with my daughter? She thinks she has it all together. I suspect “readiness”on her part is the only way. I cannot force my way in or tell her how it impacted me because she doesn’t want to hear it. So, I experience rejection after rejection. I don’t have that many years left. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you for your book as it has given me the key to Pandora’s box. At least now I know that it wasn’t all my fault. Dj

    Jonice - January 18, 2021 Reply

    Dear DJ, mother/daughter relationships are complex. I would need to know much more about you to advise you on this. I very much encourage you to explain your situation and history to a trained CEN therapist from the Find A Therapist List. That way you can get personalized help with this problem. I’m very glad that you’re able to see that CEN is not your fault. It’s important.

Janene - January 17, 2021 Reply

My feelings and emotions are in overthinking mode. Im trying to make sense of it all. Im sitting with my feelings daily about a situation,, it seems to increase. Thank you for this post.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Dear Janene, it can happen when you are beginning to listen to your emotions; they “yell” louder. Long-repressed feelings can feel more intense when you first start accessing them. Do not give up. Keep doing it, and if you need help with it, I recommend you contact a therapist from the Find A CEN Therapist List.

Kristen - January 17, 2021 Reply

What are the steps to get in touch with your feelings?

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    You can find the steps in the book Running On Empty. It takes work but is definitely worth it.

Lori - January 17, 2021 Reply

I am trying to notice my feelings and am having a hard time putting words to them. For some reason, being able to name them helps me. Do I recall one of your books having a list of feeling words?

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Yes. The list is in the back of Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

NancyAnne - January 17, 2021 Reply

Hi, I love the examples of James, Kate, and Jack. I have experienced all three scenarios, so totally relate. Except in my situation, I gave up. I didn’t know how to help myself work with and possibly resolve the problem. I knew my feelings, but I didn’t have the skills to deal. Thanks for the skills! Your practical help is magic for my soul and my life.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    I’m so glad, NancyAnne. Keep working t it!

Simon - January 17, 2021 Reply

I see so much of my life in the examples you quote, in this and other messages, far far far too many to go into detail, and have made me realise how long I have been experiencing CEN, essentially since childhood or early teens.

I remember specifically having a conversation as a child with a much loved uncle that I didnt feel part of my family but felt like I was stood on the outside looking in through the window…. so I knew even then as a child already there was a problem…. but didnt understand it was CEN bred of parental narcissism!…

I have had no contact with my family since I started my own (15 years now) as they then sought to treat my children as second class citizens as compared to my sisters…. I wasnt going to let their narcissism transfer to my children… it’s sad but life is much better without them….

One thing recently which highlights to me my problem is that I met a person for whom God and religion is an important part of their life. I have attended just one service out of interest with their Church group and since Covid have watched their weekly services online…. i just find it ‘interesting’ and ‘fascinating’… partly because these people are so HAPPY with their God in their life…. they have such warmth and huge emotion…. and it is something I’ve never seen or felt before! :-O

I am just perhaps hoping that some of this may rub off on me and help me break down that wall in my heart and release MY emotions. I realised that there is such a huge canyon between myself and these people emotionally and I have to do something more….

Jonice, do you think associating with ‘happy’ people in touch with their ‘feelings and emotions’ and willing and wanting to share (it’s not a cult!) is a healthy thing and will assist anyone experiencing CEN to access theirs and to help bridge that canyon?…

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Dear Simon, I am not qualified to advise anyone on religion. I can only recommend that you focus inward, tune into your emotions and pay more attention to yourself and meeting your own emotional needs. That is the best way, in my opinion, to fill yourself and enrich your life.

Megan - January 17, 2021 Reply

Jonice, thank you for this and all the great insights you share with those of us who are just now discovering our feelings and their value. In some future post, I would love to hear about the intersections between CEN and chronic illness. I’ve found that the tendency to ignore/distrust my feelings is a real liability in managing my disease, and I suspect it may have even contributed to it’s development. Curious if this is something you’ve seen in your work. Thanks again.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Dear Megan, that is a natural question to ask. There are so many connections between mind and body that science is still working on discovering. I wish I had some answers but I’m sorry to say that I do not know whether CEN contributes to the development of illnesses. I do know that the way you treat your feelings while you are struggling with an illness can make a major difference.

Mary - January 17, 2021 Reply

This is very useful. I will use it with myself and clients.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    I’m so glad, Mary!

Babs - January 17, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice,
I was the 6th kid being raised by WWII generation parents and they were not aware how to focus in on my feelings. Most of my friends parents were quite a bit younger than mine. I found myself jealous sometimes of friends who had parents that knew how to dial into their child’s life and also allowed their child to express themselves. When I was a young teenager my parents switched churches and I enjoyed making new friends and being a part of that church. Jonice, after reading the 3 examples of how to pay attention to our feelings, I realized I never have felt comfortable with expressing feelings or thinking about how I felt about something or how something made me feel. The church our family switched to had a saying “walk by faith not by feeling”. Looking back, I don’t think that saying was very helpful for me. I found myself ashamed for having or wanting to express my feelings.
I’m now in my early 60’s and find myself so inspired by your books and am allowing and learning how to let feeling into my life.
Thank you Jonice for dialing into your clients and helping them understand the “white space” and that it’s something that “did happen” and there’s no one to really blame but there’s hope in that I can learn how to nurture myself and allow myself to continue to feel and not be afraid to pay attention to those feelings.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Dear Babs, that slogan inadvertently shames people for being human but that has been a fairly common approach to feelings in society. I’m glad you are now trying to give yourself what you never got.

Maryrose - January 17, 2021 Reply

Great post! I’m often flooded feeling trapped in a mountain of circumstances. Listening to my body now.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Excellent, Maryrose!

Denise - January 17, 2021 Reply

I’m finding it difficult to get my head around the difference between emotions and feelings. Are they interchangeable?

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Yes they are the same thing.

Grateful - January 17, 2021 Reply

Thank you, Jonice. After completing Fuel up for Life I really appreciate these occasional reminders that reinforce how I should put what I’ve learned into practice. After working through being overwhelmed by my emotions once my wall was dismantled I am really surprised how readily I’m now aware of my feelings. Processing and using them is still a challenge but I’m practicing accepting they are valid and important. This helps manage the inevitable guilt that rises up every time I endeavour to put my needs first, with healthy boundaries rather than re-building and cowering behind my wall. I’ve also been able to look back and ‘see’ so clearly how my actions, inactions and decisions have been done with everyone else but my needs in mind, and I’m slowly starting to unpick those. Some of that can be fairly easily again with healthier boundaries, and I can tell they are (to my surprise) actually making relationships better. However I have a growing concern that the change that will make the biggest difference is to take a difference path and end one or more relationships. However I’m aware my mental health is affected by the Covid situation so I’m taking things slowly and not making any rash decisions. I’ve struggled with CEN for 50+ years so I ester even to be patient with myself while I work things out. Thank you again for your program and other resources as I’m finding myself for the first time in my life.

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Dear Grateful, I’m so glad you’ve been able to use the fuel Up For Life so well. I can tell from your comment that you are on the absolutely right track and doing amazing work. It’s hard to end harmful or vacant relationships but often a healthy thing to do. I’m glad you’re making sure to be thoughtful about it and take your time. Keep up the good work!

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