We often think that emotions are felt with our minds, but this is not true. Emotions are felt in the body. While the mind oversees naming the emotion, and giving it meaning, the feeling itself gets felt by the body. Consider the following ways our bodies register emotion.
- Rage makes us feel tingly and tight throughout our chest and arms and face.
- Shame brings a flood of heat and warmth to our chest and face and a pit to our stomachs.
- Fear brings a swirling tornado of butterflies to our stomach and chest and a rush of adrenaline shooting through our arms and legs.
- Joy brings us a feeling of warmth and peace in our chest and heart area.
What this means is that if we have disconnected from our bodies, by ignoring or not paying attention to the signals our bodies are sending to us, then we are also unplugged from our emotional selves. Think of the handicap this creates. Without the feedback that the body is designed to provide moment by moment as we go through our lives, we are literally missing a huge chunk of data about ourselves and our environment. We are not aware of how we are experiencing events as they happen. This leaves us unable to take care of ourselves appropriately or to know what we need in any given moment.
Knowing what we need is based on being connected to our bodies and our emotional selves. When we walk around cut off from this literal ‘body of information’ we don’t know what we need and we therefore don’t give it to ourselves or take care of ourselves. This can create a perpetual state of deprivation as our needs go ignored or unmet. This in turn places our bodies into a state of stress that for many of us has become so normal that we don’t realize we are stressed. What I call ‘living outside of our margins’ can become so typical that we don’t realize it is happening until the consequences pile up.
Living outside of our margins is when we operate without the information our body can provide and as a result we override the needs of our body and push our bodies to do more on less until we have no margin or cushion and are living in an overextended manner that is not healthy for us physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Look at the following list. These are examples of the ways in which we can be cut off from our bodies and not even know it.
- Skipping meals or snacks and suddenly realizing that you are extremely hungry or have a headache because you haven’t eaten. Your body had to go into distress before you paid attention to your hunger signals, which have been present for hours.
- Getting into bed at night in a state of exhaustion because you have been ignoring the signals from your body telling you that you are tired and need more rest or sleep.
- Becoming irritable and short-tempered with the people around you because of the demands on your time and energy. You haven’t had any rest, play, or fun and now you are full of resentment.
- Showing up for a meeting at work where a co-worker makes a comment that hurts your feelings. You are disconnected from your hurt feelings but you start carrying around a resentment toward this co-worker.
- You haven’t been interested in sex with your partner for a while. You don’t realize that there are several un-resolved events and hurts sitting between the two of you that are depressing your libido.
When I was in high school, we watched a film series on the environment in science class. In it Meryl Streep, who was the narrator, would intone repeatedly, “There is no away,” meaning that when we throw something away there is no away, it goes somewhere and someone must do something with it. I often hear Meryl in my head when talking with clients about their feelings and needs because they so frequently operate as if since they don’t know about their feelings then they must not exist. But just like in the physical world, in the emotional world there also is no away.
One of the laws of the universe is that we will always do something with our feelings and we will always try to get our needs met. Unprocessed feelings and unmet needs go somewhere and that place is usually underground where they will get expressed or met in ways that are often unhealthy for us and perhaps hurtful to those we love.
Try this exercise for the next few days. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to beep at you several times throughout the day. Each time the alarm sounds, take a moment, close your eyes, breathe deeply and travel out of your mind and down into your body. Ask yourself what your body is feeling in that given moment. Then ask yourself what you need at that given moment. Throughout the day, you will find that you are feeling different things and needing different things.
This exercise helps to build the connection back between your mind and your body and to bring your body into your field of awareness. Don’t worry if when you start this exercise you can’t figure out what you feel or what you need. Just continue to close your eyes, take a few breaths, and consciously touch base with your body. You are building a connection and it may take some practice. Eventually, you will begin to sense your body in a different way and be able to name the feelings and needs that your body is signaling to you.