Discussing upsetting feelings helps, but it can often be too hard or confusing as a first step. If so, it's good to find other ways to express yourself before they fester and breed anxieties. Therapeutic writing is one such way - here’s how;
A: Know the difference between feelings - thoughts - and expressions.
Feelings; (or emotions) are physical sensations in your body. A kind of internal wifi, providing you feedback from your day to day experiences.
Thoughts; happen in your brain, to make sense of what you feel - often this happens unconsciously, when you experience events that overwhelm you.
Expressions; (talking writing moving etc...) are ways to process and make sense of what you feel and think.
B. Know that avoiding your feelings creates internal stress.
Why? Because your body has limited emotional capacity - so if you avoid processing feelings (through too much distraction) - they eventually overwhelm you and go on to breed anxieties and confused or disturbing thoughts.
For example an unprocessed feeling of rejection or unfair treatment by someone may go from a harmless thought like '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 without the right support or encouragement. So what can you do instead?
C. Start to notice, name and write your feelings down.
Writing what you feel can be tricky, but it's a skill you can learn. If finding the right words is tough - 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 - start badly and things will become clearer as you go. You could try writing a poem or short story - Written Road shows how a client used poetic writing to support a successful therapeutic process.
For more examples see Writing Therapy.
Difficult feelings rarely make sense until you pause to untangle them - expression through writing can help. The more you do, the better you’ll get to know yourself, the more capacity you'll retain for new experiences - and the easier navigating life will become. That doesn't mean life will be easy - just easier than it would if you suppress too much of what you feel : ). You may get a bit emotional but this should pass. If it doesn’t, pause and use the breathing technique here and try again another day.