One of the scariest aspects of considering healing trauma is the thought of feeling our feelings. Trauma survivors know: shutting some or all feelings down helped survivors survive!
I know that was true for me. I had to learn to feel my feelings as a first step to healing trauma. And, feeling my feelings seemed terrifying. I didn’t want to hurt . . . .
What I didn’t realize was that I was already hurting. But, in addition to my pain, I was in fear of my own pain.
But then, I had an epiphany . . . ALL of the feelings I held inside my body were based on things I’d already survived. Those feelings couldn’t hurt me like I had been hurt as a child.
For many, the idea of opening the door to old feelings connected to trauma feels like inviting a tsunami into your body.
I get it. I’ve been there.
Here’s the truth though. That ability to shut feelings down is a skill. It’s a skill that no trauma survivor should write off as a “bad habit” because it can be very useful to help manage overwhelm.
The idea is to learn to feel feelings so that they can help navigate the process of healing triggers.
But, many survivors I talk to have had their feelings shut down for so long that they don’t know how to feel them. That’s why I wrote this post.
Here is the question: “Where do you feel your feelings in your body?”
When I ask that question, people answer two ways. There’s actually three answers, and only one of them is really correct.
Incorrect answer #1. One of the answers I get is: “I feel my feelings in my brain or in my head.” The truth is, feelings don’t happen in your head. Thoughts happen in your head.
So, if you’re saying, “I feel my feelings in my brain,” then that’s a clue to you that you’re actually not separating your thoughts from your feelings. Thoughts are usually expressed in a sentence or a belief that can be expressed in sentence form.
Feelings can be expressed in one word. Some examples of feelings words are: happy, sad, nervous, frustrated, agitated, dejected, elated, loved, ignored or confused. Those are feelings words. They don’t happen in your head.
Incorrect answer #2. The other thing that people tell me is that they feel feelings in their shoulders or in their chest.
That isn’t feelings, that is pain. That pain develops as a result of not paying attention to the feelings where they actually are. Feelings are your body’s way of communicating with you. When you ignore those communications, your body has no other choice for getting your attention than pulling the fire alarm that leads to shoulder, neck, face pain or other pain in your body.
Correct answer: Your body is constructed in such a way that you’re supposed to be able to feel feelings in your belly – or solar plexus. If you haven’t been attending to your feelings there, it can take some practice. Feelings usually show up there in a very subtle way. Tuning in can take some practice.
If you close your eyes right now and pay attention to the feelings that you have in your body, pay attention to the space between your belly button and the bottom of your ribs. What you will feel is some sort of subtle motion or some sort of subtle movement that happens. Imagine if we unzipped from the navel to the bottom of the ribs to look inside. We wouldn’t actually see any movement there, but when you’re paying attention to that part of your body and you have unresolved feelings or there are feelings or something that you are having a big reaction to, it’ll be right there.
So listen to that place in your belly. Pay attention. Listen, but not with your ears.
What is the motion? Once you’ve identified the movement, then look for the feeling word that seems to fit the activity in your belly. That’s where we feel feelings in our body.
Most people, especially survivors who are still struggling to understand how to deal with trauma, don’t have a practice of listening to the body. Because it’s not only feelings about everyday life, but triggers that wake up feelings in the body.
The TraumaERASE MethodTM provides a clear guide for navigating feelings, reducing confusion and showing you what to do so you can erase triggers completely.
Everything starts with paying attention to feelings so you can know the difference between triggered feelings that make you believe you are in danger when you’re really safe and feelings that are alerting you to actual danger. Then, the next step is learning how to use feelings to help make decisions in everyday interactions with yourself and others that don’t feel threatening.
Pay attention and listening to your feelings, you can empower you to take proactive steps before your body goes into high alarm.
When we think about why you have tension in your shoulders, why your chest is tight or why do you get headaches, most of the time it’s because you haven’t been listening to the quiet subtleties that go on where the feelings live in your body. Ignoring this subtle communications leaves your body no choice but to send you a signal that you will listen to, and that is usually in the form of tension, bringing your shoulders up, crossing your eyebrows, feeling pain.
So if you’re having pain in your body, recognize that that’s because your body is trying to tell you that something going on at your feelings level that you should be paying attention to. A book that I found very useful to help me unravel chronic pain in my legs that doctors wanted to diagnose a fibromyalgia is John Sarno: The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain. (This is not a paid or affiliate link – just to help you find it more easily. Reading this book led to a major breakthrough for me that helped me decipher and heal my physical pain completely.)
I would encourage anyone who is suffering from PTSD or physical pain to practice, every day, tuning in to the feelings in the body.
Sometimes when someone has gone a long period of time without having plugged in to their feelings, they will say: “There’s nothing there. I got nothing.”
I encourage them to persist. With persistence, something will show up. It always does. And the healing can begin.