Discussing upsetting feelings helps, but it's often too scary as a first step. If so, it's important to find other ways to express yourself before feelings fester and multiply. Therapeutic writing can be a good starting point, it's essentially a process to enable you to understand what you feel and think more clearly and objectively in your own time and without pressure - here’s how;
A: Know the difference between a feeling - a thought - and an expression.
Feelings and emotions are physical sensations you experience in your body.
Thoughts happen in your brain, to make sense of what you feel - often this happens unconsciously when you experience confusing or traumatic events that overwhelm you in the moment. An expression (talking writing moving etc) is a way to process feelings that you may have missed to understand yourself better.
B. Know that avoiding your feelings causes problems.
Why? Because your body has limited emotional capacity - so if you avoid processing feelings (by distracting yourself) - then they build up and overwhelm you, eventually distorting your thoughts and breeding anxieties.
They might go from 'it's unfair that person treated me badly' - too 'I must deserve to be treated badly' - or from 'that event was scary' - too 'I'm incapable of anything like that again'. Rather than - 'that persons behaviour isn't acceptable and I didn't deserve it' or 'I may need to practice / get support to learn to do that thing'.
This is especially common when you experience overwhelming events growing up or later in life without support or encouragement. So what can you do instead?
C. Start to notice, name and write your feelings down.
It can be tricky at first, but it's a skill you can learn. If finding the right words is hard - use the emotional vocabulary map below (click on it to enlarge/print). Pause and try to name what you’re feeling and what thoughts connect to it.
Phrases like 'I feel sad or frustrated or disappointed because........happened. Or..........happened earlier and I felt anxious, upset or angry because.......' may help as a starter.
Know that there isn’t a ‘right’ way to do it, so start badly and things will become clearer as you go. You might like to try writing a poem or short story - Written Road shows how a client used poetic writing to support a successful therapeutic process. Or for more examples see Writing Therapy.
Tough feelings rarely make sense until you pause to untangle them and expression through writing is one way to do so. The more you do, the better you’ll get to know yourself, the more capacity you'll retain for new experiences - and navigating life will become easier. That doesn't mean life will be easy - just easier than it would if you suppress too much of what you feel : ). You might get a bit emotional but this should pass. If it doesn’t, pause and use the breathing technique here and try again later on.