You know what complicates life? Feelings.
Feelings are tricky little critters that get wrapped up in just about all of life's experiences. And all too often these feelings can feel kinda crappy.
Worry, apprehension, fear, doubt, shame, guilt, boredom, embarrassment, overwhelm, dread, anger, frustration, sadness...they're everywhere! And the worst part is, they can influence our perception of ourselves and others, and the choices we make, causing us to live in ways that aren't really healthy or fulfilling.
So, today I want to talk about the emotional self, discover how feelings work, understand why they're important, and learn how to work WITH them instead of wishing they didn't exist.
Welcome to the blog & podcast, Unlocking Wellness! I’m Crystal McLain, curator of Crystal McLain Creative, an online resource that supports folks who are ready to get creative with their self care, so they can feel healthy, empowered and fulfilled.
If you enjoy this content, would like to support my work, AND score some sweet self care goodies, consider a Patreon Membership for as little as $3 a month! Yup, three bucks…it’s like buying me a cup of coffee. To learn more about memberships and how funds are making a positive impact, you can visit: crystalmclaincreative.com.
And, if you like to read along WHILE you listen, or enjoy graphics and videos, you can access all of these features through the blog version of this podcast. I’ll leave a direct link to this episode in the show notes below.
Alright. Let's get to it.
So, to kick things off, let's talk about what the emotional self is.
The emotional self is the part of you that's able to...
- express your feelings.
Now, that's a tidy check list, but, we all know that managing our emotional self is anything but. That said, the more we understand our emotions, the more CREATIVE we can get while working with them, and the tidier the process will be.
In a nutshell, emotions are the result of experience paired with sensation.
We've all had moments in life that left us feeling some sort of way. And these feelings are the result of actual chemistry going on within your body caused by stimuli.
What do I mean by that?
If you hung out with us while we expanded our body consciousness, you know all about your sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and gut). You know that these sensory organs relay information to the brain, whose job is to orchestrate something called homeostasis by regulating the body's systems which control things like heart rate, hormone production, and respiration. Basically, your brain and body are designed to work together, so they can keep you safe, healthy and functioning no matter the circumstances.
Well, when there's a stimulus, a thing or an event that evokes a physiological and cognitive response, you're going to experience a mind-body sensation.
And, because we're communicative creatures with consciousness, we rely on language to identify the sensations we experience.
Emotions are quite literally the labels we give to these mind-body sensations in order to understand our reactions to everything that's going on in the world around us.
And while this is a fairly simple explanation about how emotions come into being, emotions are a lot more complicated than this.
Which is why, sometimes, they can feel really confusing...
Personally, I believe the biggest culprit for complicating our emotions is other people.
I don't know about you, but I've been told many, MANY times, throughout my entire life, how to feel. Sometimes it's blatant, other times it's subtle, but no matter how you slice it, it can kinda fuck with you.
And we are being told how to feel by a pretty wide range of people.
On one end we've got a culture steeped in capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchal systems which use their psychological schemes to play into our most fundamental fears so they can manipulate us for their own gain. Yeah, it's trash. And one of the reasons why I'm trying to empower people so they can determine their own worth and wellness, and change the game we've been taught to play.
Anyway, on the other end, we have people who DO genuinely care for us, but they tell us to cheer-up, or to move on. Or they try to convince us that we're okay when really, we're not. And most likely they're doing this because they don't know how to deal with our emotions- let alone their own- and they don't want us to suffer, so this is how they respond.
BTW, if you're a person who does this, thank you, I love you, I appreciate you, but please stop. It's not helpful. We'll talk about how to deal with yucky feelings in a minute.
But, yeah, when we're consistently being told how to feel, or if we don't have a safe space to process or express our feelings, what ends up happening is, we learn to either:
- mistrust our emotions
- try to regulate our feelings so they can fit into other people's expectations
- feel like a hot mess because we don't know what to do with our emotions
- we try NOT to feel at all because feeling is too complicated and uncomfortable, and who has the time and energy for that?
Well, nobody has the time or energy for that, but we still have to deal with our feelings, BECAUSE, SPOILER ALERT: Ignoring your emotional health is TERRIBLE for your TOTAL wellbeing. It affects your physical health, your mental heath, your relationships..it's really powerful stuff.
And I'm guessing one of the reasons you're here right now with this post, is because you probably want to feel more in control of the health and wellbeing (and I love you for that).
So, let's learn how to gain a little bit of peace, and a little bit of power, and let's get creative with our emotional self care, together...
So, at the risk of discouraging you, I have to tell you...your emotions are NOT always reliable resources.
Now, that's NOT to say that your feelings aren't real. Oh, my dear, your feelings are VERY real. And not only are they real, but they're valid and deserve your care and attention. But, that said, they still may not be reliable indicators of TRUTH.
And, at the risk of confusing you even further, despite your feelings being potential big fat liars, they're STILL very important information that you must to pay attention to.
And to demonstrate this- in a very simple fashion, I want to tell you a little story about a walk that I went on with a friend...
So, my friend and I are out on this walk. And as we passed this one particular house, a dog comes running toward us, barking. Now, I don't believe my friend has ever had a dog, and I think I recall her mentioning having had a bad experience once. Me, however, I grew up with dogs. German Shepards, no less. And I've never had a bad experience.
Well, in this moment, my friend experienced fear and moved away from the dog, whereas I felt perfectly happy to see the dog, and moved towards it.
QUESTION: Who's feelings were valid here?
Trick question. Both.
And kind of an unfair question because we're missing the most important piece of information from this story; the TRUTH about the dog.
So here's the thing about humans. We have something called consciousness. And with consciousness comes some pretty cool features like, imagination.
Because we NEED to understand our environment, and because our sensory organs can only detect so much information, and our emotions only give us so much feedback (some of which is unreliable), we use our imagination to fill in the gaps.
We need to use our imagination to fill in the gaps because it's literally impossible to be fully aware. We cannot always know the truth, or have all the facts, or be tuned in all the time, to all the things. We also can't predict the future, or know what someone else is thinking or feeling.
That means everything we experience is up for interpretation, and so we rely on our emotions and imagination to act as a compass while we navigate through this world.
My friend learned to fear dogs, and I learned to love them. That means we walk through this world with a different relationship with, perception of, and belief system about dogs.
Now, being afraid of dogs probably isn't going to be the biggest burden in life.
But what if we experience fear, or doubt, or shame, or any other restrictive emotion when it comes to our health and wellbeing?
What happens when our feelings keep us from advocating for ourselves?
What happens when our emotions block us from practicing self care, self respect or self love?
How do they affect the boundaries we set?
How do our feelings influence our relationships with people, money, drugs, alcohol, food, sex, pain, loss, grief, pride, power, pleasure...?
Whether something is healthy or not is irrelevant to our emotions, they don't give a damn. We're gonna feel what we feel, and we're going to act on those feelings...until we PERCEIVE differently.
Our experiences, current circumstances and present mood create our perception. And our perception fuels our imagination. And if left unchecked, it can do more harm than good.
So, we need to take back the power. We need to gain control of our imagination, pair it with critical thinking, shift our perspective and get CREATIVE with our emotional self care.
And when you get creative with your emotional self care, YOU become more powerful than your feelings.
Alright, like I mentioned earlier, your emotions aren't necessarily reliable indicators of TRUTH. But despite that being the case, you STILL need to pay attention to the messages you receive.
And the reason we need to pay attention, is because even though the messages may not make sense, there's still something you need to know.
Let's talk about the subconscious brain for a minute.
Essentially, our automatic, subconscious brains are designed to QUICKLY determine whether or not something is safe or dangerous, because if it IS dangerous, we don't want to fuck around and wait too long.
Like, if a smoke detector goes off, you're not going to finish watching that TikTok video, in a state of panic while worrying about all that could go wrong if there was indeed a fire. No, you're going to get up, look around, smell for smoke and assess the situation. If there IS a fire you're going to either try to put it out, evacuate the building, call 911, something.
The point is, you receive a signal that something is wrong. You pay attention to that signal, and assess the situation. After your assessment, you're going to take appropriate action.
That is YOU, being a fully capable human, making decisions for your wellbeing. Which is something you actually do all the time.
Well, our emotions are like little personal alarms that are also trying to tell us when something is off. But a lot of times we just ignore the alarm.
We need to take the time to pay attention to, and understand our emotions. They're not always going to be easy to understand, but they're going to help us figure out our needs.
So, let's learn how to practice emotional self care.
So, the first step for emotional self care is to IDENTIFY what you're feeling.
Because we've been conditioned to numb, suppress, ignore, and mislabel our feelings, identifying them can be a bit tricky. But the more familiar you become with this process, the easier it's going to be.
And the reason to get really clear about what you're feeling, is because it's going to be a whole lot easier to process and express your emotions, and advocate for your needs. So, to help you organize the chaos, I have a free feelings identifier at my website, which is basically a list, categorized with primary emotions, and then more specific emotions within each category.
Again, this is FREE to anyone who visits my website. I'll leave a link at the bottom of the blog.
And, if you have a membership with me, you can find it conveniently located in the Inspiration Station App, or along with the journal prompts at today's Perks Page. If you're a member, you totally know what I'm talking about. And if you're not a member, and you want to know more about that, hit me up and I'll hook you up. ...or you can learn more HERE.
Anyway, how do we identify our feelings?
Well, you start by getting a sense of how you're generally feeling, and from there, you get more specific.
Let's say you identify a primary emotion as anger.
Anger is a powerful feeling, but also a pretty vague one. If we look more closely at our anger and dissect it, we might actually see that it's a combination of other feelings like frustration, disappointment, or resentment. Just like sadness might be a combination of grief, loneliness, or betrayal.
Can you see the difference between these more specific feelings and how they might help you better understand yourself and your circumstances?
I hope so.
Anyway, if you are unsure about your feelings, go snag that feelings identifier. It's free.
The second step is to PRACTICE experiencing your emotions.
Before we even think about processing and expressing our feelings, let's get comfortable with just being with them.
Because a lot of emotions are quite uncomfortable, that means we'd rather not feel them. And because our brains identify comfort and pleasure with safety, and because our brains are wicked smart problem solvers, that means it's gonna find all sorts of ways to make us avoid uncomfortable feelings and do something that makes us feel good instead.
I'm lookin at YOU, Netflix and potato chips...
Anyway, this is how we get wrapped up in unhealthy habits, and sometimes take simple pleasures a little too far. This is actually us ALLOWING our feelings to have control of our actions. When what we WANT is to have control of actions DESPITE our emotions.
Well, how we start PRACTICING regaining our power and taking control, is by PRACTICING sitting with our feelings.
Just be with them. Just feel them.
If you're sad, feel it.
If you're angry, feel it.
If you're anxious, feel it.
But try not to act on it, and try not to change it.
This isn't a form of punishment, or me wanting you to suffering. What this IS, is hard evidence for your brain, that you will not die if you're uncomfortable. It's proof for your brain that you're going to be okay, even if you're not okay. Know what I mean?
And you don't have to sit in your feelings forever. For starters, feelings don't last forever, so you can rest in knowing that. But also, YOU are in control here. If you feel like you've had enough. That's okay. Take a break. This is a practice. And when we practice something, we start small.
So while you're here, experiencing your emotions, CURIOSITY is going to be your best friend. Take the time to really pay attention to what's going on with your mind, body, and behaviors or urges. Oh, and try not to JUDGE what's going on. Just take notice.
What physical sensations do you feel? How's your gut? How's your energy? Are you shaking? Are you sweaty? Do you feel light-headed? Do you feel tense?
What's going on in your brain? Is it hard to focus? Are you obsessing? Are you judging yourself? What kind of thoughts are popping up in your head?
What feels enticing in this moment? Do you want to fire up a cigarette, pound a beer, or eat as many cookies as humanly possible? Do you want to look at your phone? Do you want to yell at someone?
When we do THIS, when we practice non-judgmental observation, while we're in our feelings, a few seriously awesome things are happening. For starters, we're building confidence and resilience. Which are AMAZING skills to have in life. And, on top of that, we're becoming SO self aware that we're going to be able understand ourselves in ways we never knew we could.
And, BTW, I want to remind you, this is really fucking hard. And that's why we PRACTICE it. We're not nailing it. We're not crushing it. We're not perfecting it. We're practicing.
The third step is to process your emotions. And I've got good news, in the words of Bon Jovi, we're half way there!
Well, we're half way there if you've already identified some of your feelings, and noticed your thoughts, body sensations and behavioral impulses as a non-judgmental observer.
But yeah, from here we can start interviewing our feelings.
Let's get to know'em a little bit.
When do these feelings pop up?
What was going on in your life when you first noticed these feelings?
Has anyone else played a role in the development of these feelings?
What can you learn from them?
How are you responsible for these feelings?
What needs to change in order for these feelings to become more manageable?
What can you do to create that change?
If you were to replace these feeling with other emotions, what would those emotions be, and what would help you achieve them?
That's probably enough interview questions for now. If you're a Patreon member, I've actually got some really good journal prompts for you in the app and on the perks page.
Let's move on...
The fourth and final step for practicing emotional self care is to express your feelings.
When we have a safe space where we can share and release our feelings outside of our own head, it helps us to gain even more clarity about them. It also helps us to take our power back.
Now, there's probably a million-and-one ways to express your emotions, and I'll share a bigger list at Patreon, but I'm just going to list a few of my favorites here today.
1. OPEN UP TO SOMEONE YOU TRUST
Talking about your feelings, or what you're going through is SO GOOD. There's nothing quite like having a set of compassionate ears, or another perspective to help you work through your feelings.
But, if you want to open up to someone, and they have a tendency to tell you how to feel or try to "fix" you or your feelings in some way, you're gonna need to set some boundaries first.
Before you start divulging your emotional landscape, tell your listener what you need from them. Be very clear, and maybe thank them. Gratitude is really nice, and effective for getting what we want.
And if YOU ever end up being the listener in this case, ask your person what they need from you. As good as it may be, they may not want your advice. They might just need a place to vent. Keep their words in confidence, and thank them for trusting you.
We all need more healthy relationships.
I cannot express how cathartic writing can be. I'm talkin' ACTUAL pen-to-paper, words-on-a-page-writing.
You don't have to make your writing interesting, or have correct spelling or good grammar. You don't have to have a theme or topic or direction. You just need to write.
If you're feeling shitty, write that down and see what follows. Take everything from the first three steps of emotional self care and pour it on the page. And notice what happens next.
Again, we're not looking for anything interesting here. You don't have to use fancy materials, and it doesn't have to be "good". Just make something with your goddamn hands. Choose colors or shapes or lines that match your mood. Scribble, cut and paste, tear the paper and glue it back together. Dump paint on it and smoosh it around with your hands. Art isn't precious, it's a process, and it can help you express yourself when words fail you.
Alright, my friend. We've covered a LOT of material today, so I applaud your for hanging in there. And, let's quickly recap some of the important bits.
- Getting creative with your emotional self care makes YOU more powerful than your feelings.
- Your feelings aren't always indicators of TRUTH, but they're valuable tools for creating health and wellness in your life.
- Practicing emotional self care builds confidence, resilience, and self awareness.
- Emotional self care is GREAT for your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships.
- Curiosity, patience and compassion are your greatest assets during your practice.
- You are a capable human who CAN get creative with your emotional self care.
If you're curious about anything I've mentioned here today, you can find links at the bottom of the blog. And if you're a patreon member, don't forget to snag all the juicy perks today. You can find those links at the top and bottom of the blog.
I love you.
I appreciate you.
Thank you so much for being here.
I'll see you soon. Xx
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