It can be easy to get caught up in your emotions as you’re feeling them. Most people don’t think about the emotions they are dealing with, but taking the time to really identify what you’re feeling can help you better cope with challenging situations.
Mental Health America and the providers at Dakota Family Services offer these tips for identifying and owning your feelings:
1) Allow Yourself to Feel
Sometimes there are societal pressures that encourage people to shut down their emotions, often expressed through statements like, “Big girls don’t cry,” or “Man up.” These outdated ideas are harmful, not helpful. Everyone has emotions—they are part of the human experience—and you have every right to feel them, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, race, political affiliation, or religion.
2) Don’t Ignore How You’re Feeling
Most of us have heard the term “bottling up your feelings” before. When we try to push feelings aside without addressing them, they build strength and make us more likely to “explode” at some point in the future. It may not always be appropriate to process your emotions at the very moment you are feeling them, but try to do so as soon as you can.
3) Talk It Out
Find someone you trust that you can talk to about how you’re feeling. You may find that people are eager to share about similar experiences they’ve had or times that they have felt the way that you are feeling. This can be helpful, but if you’re really only interested in having someone listen, it’s okay to tell them that.
4) Build Your Emotional Vocabulary
When asked about our feelings, most people will usually use words like bad, sad, mad, good, or fine. But at the root of “good, bad, sad, mad, or find” are many words that better describe how we feel. Try building your emotional vocabulary by writing down as many “feeling” words as you can think of and think of a time that you felt that way. (Learn more about the "Feelings Wheel" exercise.)
5) Try Journaling
Each night write down at least 3 feelings you had over the course of the day and what caused them. It doesn’t need to be a “Dear Diary” kind of thing. Just a few sentences or bullet points to help you practice being comfortable with identifying and expressing your emotions. Learn more about journaling here.
6) Consider the Strength of Your Feelings
By thinking about how intense your emotions are, you may realize that what you thought you were feeling at first could better be described by another word. For instance, sometimes a person might say that are stressed when what they are really experiencing is something less severe like annoyance. Alternatively, anger might really be a stronger, deeper feeling like betrayal.
7) See a Mental Health Professional
If you are taking steps to be more in touch with your feelings, but are having trouble dealing with them, mental health providers like counselors and therapists have been trained to help. You are not alone. Don't feel ashamed, instead be proud of going to therapy, because you are taking steps to own your feelings.
For additional resources, we've created a comprehensive list of mental health resources to support parents, children, and adults in many areas.