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How to Know When You Are Having a Feeling

How do you know when you are having a feeling?

As the pioneer of the concept and full theory of CEN — or Childhood Emotional Neglect — I receive hundreds of questions every week about CEN, what it means, how it works, its effects, and how to heal.

Many readers of my books and blogs have very personal, thoughtful observations and questions to share. In fact, I have learned quite a lot from receiving, reading, and answering them.

Of all those many questions there is one that I receive over and over and over again. And then again. And the next day, there it is again. I get it so often because it’s a key piece of the cause of CEN and a key building block for CEN healing too. In fact, it would be hard to overstate its importance.

How do you know when you are having a feeling?

My answer to this question is not quite as simple as most would like. It’s complicated by the fact that every human being is different.

How Do You Know When You Are Having A Feeling? 3 Signs

Note: Any one of these signs is an alert that you are having a feeling. You do not need to have all three.

  1. Physical sensation: Emotions are literally physical sensations that reside in your body. If you know that you are someone who is unaware of your feelings it may help to pay more attention to your body, paying special attention to the sensations that may come and go. Emotions are often felt in the belly or chest or throat but they can also be in your arms, legs, hands, head, or any other part of your body. Watch for a physical sensation and when one happens, stop and take note.
  2. Physical pain or symptoms: Emotions that are not acknowledged or attended do not go away. They hang around under the surface of your life and can cause physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, fatigue, restlessness, jaw clenching, chest tightness, or an almost endless list of other physical symptoms. In fact, research shows that, for example, repressed anger has been linked to heart attacks. When you notice a physical symptom, stop and ask yourself if you might be repressing an emotion.
  3. Surprised or confused by your own behavior: Our actions are driven by our feelings. When you are aware of what you’re feeling, you have the opportunity to use your brain to consider the feeling you are having and plan your actions. This puts your behavior under your control. If you are surprised or confused by something you do, consider the possibility that you are having a feeling of which you are unaware. Pause to think about this.

What To Do If You Notice One of the 3 Signs of Having a Feeling

The 3 signs above will, hopefully, alert you to the possibility that you may be feeling something and that is an excellent start! But the signs will not tell you what you are feeling or what it means. To help you with that, I created an exercise to guide you. I first shared it in my book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It’s called The Identifying & Naming Exercise.

The Identifying and Naming Exercise

Step 1: Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen that takes over your mind, banishing all thoughts. Focus all of your attention on the screen, turning your attention inward.

Step 2: Ask yourself the question: “What am I feeling right now?”

Step 3: Focus on your internal experience. Be aware of any thoughts that might pop into your head, and erase them quickly. Keep your focus on: “What am I feeling right now?”

Step 4: Try to identify feeling words to express it. You may need more than one word.

Step 5: If you’re having difficulty identifying any feelings, skim through the Feeling Word List in the Resources at the end of the Running On Empty book, and see if one or more words jump out at you.

Step 6: Once a word jumps out at you, say it out loud. “I feel ______.” Does it sound right when you say it? Does it feel right when you say it? Does it feel partially right but you need more words to describe it?

Step 7: When a feeling word seems like it may be accurate, you are ready to move on to the next step, which is trying to figure out why you are feeling that.

We will save Step 7 for another day because right now we’re trying to help you know when you’re feeling something. Learning the other feeling skills is easier once you have become more skilled at this first one.

The Takeaway

Your emotions are literally physical sensations that reside in your body. When you fail to notice and acknowledge a feeling, it can become a physical problem for you or it can make you act in ways that may be undesirable or regrettable or simply confusing.

Learning how to identify when you are having a feeling is a vital skill for living a happy and healthy life. When you grow up in an emotionally neglectful family you sadly do not have the opportunity to learn it. In fact, you learn the opposite: how to ignore, deny, belittle, and block off your feelings.

Now, as the adult you are, you have the power to make some new choices for yourself. You can choose to focus, choose to learn, and choose to feel.

You can choose to start valuing your feelings and using them to know and understand yourself better. You can start down the path of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It’s never too early or too late to choose yourself.