What are you feeling right now?
Note that I didn’t ask “how?” but rather “what?”
Far too often we try to boil our incredibly complex and rich emotional landscape down into a single spectrum of good or bad, as in “I feel fine,” “I feel lousy.”
But “fine” isn’t what you’re actually feeling. At any given moment, you are having a deeply complex emotional experience. You might even be feeling a whole host of seemingly conflicting emotions at the same time.
Do you know what you’re feeling? Can you recognize and describe the emotions you’re feeling right now?
If you struggle with body image, answering these questions might feel impossible.
I’ve discovered a huge correlation in my clients, between negative body image and difficulty identifying and describing their emotions.
(Interesting side note for psychology nerds like me– there is actually a clinically diagnosable term for this condition; it’s called Alexithymia.)
While correlation doesn’t equal causation, I’ve seen how improving the skill of identifying and describing your emotions frequently helps a client release many of the body image issues she’s been struggling with for years or decades.
Well, I don’t know exactly. It seems to me that when a client has no awareness of her emotional life, by default she pays a TON of attention to how she looks, since her external appearance is the location of her self, as she understands it.
When a client like that fills out her awareness of self to include her rich inner (emotional) life, she also has less of a need to define herself by how she looks.
Plus when someone is deeply in touch with what she’s feeling, she automatically has both less mental energy to spend on her external appearance, and more appreciation for how amazing her body is.
After all, your emotions are biological signals. You feel them physically.
In order to know and describe what you’re feeling, you have to be able to tune in to the sensations inside your body. That’s the very definition of an internal experience.
Ummm but why can’t I tell what I’m feeling?
There are many reasons why you might have wound up in a situation where you struggle to recognize and describe your internal experience. Here are a few of the most common ones:
Trauma. Trauma just means any experience you didn’t have the capacity to cope with at the time, and it’s one of the biggest reasons people disconnect from their inner experiences. A natural response to stress, especially when you’re younger or less armed with coping skills, is to disassociate, which ends up feeling a bit like your Self is completely separate from your Body– and unless you have the right kind of help and support, you may stay in that slightly disassociated state well into your adult life, and find it nearly impossible to tell what you’re feeling by tuning into your body.
A lack of mirroring. Humans come with a built in mirroring mechanism, to help us connect to each other. It feels great as adults to be mirrored, but for babies it’s actually crucial for their development. By getting lots of exaggerated mirroring, a child get to know herself through the eyes of her caretakers, and develops a strong sense of who she is and what she’s experiencing.
A lack of education. Seriously. If nobody ever asked you what you were feeling, and encouraged you to really explore and describe it, then you’re probably just not well-practiced at the skill of doing so.
I could go on and on (and I do, in my courses and workshops), but I’ll stop there because this email is getting long.
My point is that by learning to recognize and describe your emotional life, you stand a good chance of improving your body image.
Where do you start?
Start by trying to describe what sadness feels like, physically. How do you know you’re sad? Describe in vivid and specific language what sensations occur in your body to let you know you’re sad. Where in your body do you feel it? Chest? Belly? Face? Feet? Is sadness hot or cold? Does it flow or is it sharp? Does it have a color, or a texture, or a smell?
Now do the same thing for jealousy. And joy. And disgust. And gratitude.
Explore these with curiosity, just to see what comes up. Don’t worry if it’s hard. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but I promise the more you attempt to recognize and describe your emotions, the easier it will get.
If this is resonating with you, and you want more support or information on how to proceed with this practice, I created an e-course called Make Friends With Your Feelings for this exact reason.
MFWYF is a 10 week course delivered via 70 daily emails which teaches you how to recognize, welcome, understand, describe, and then take appropriate action on each individual emotion.
If you want to learn how to read the map of your emotional landscape, this is the best tool that I know of.
Sure I’m biased, but I created it due to the fact that there was such a glaring lack of appropriate education about this stuff.
As for everyone else, I would love to hear your thoughts on this– please come on over to my private Facebook group Women Who Empower Other Women, Unite! To share your thoughts, ideas, or just a description of what you’re feeling right now. 😉
Wishing you an emotionally rich day,
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