Talking about uncomfortable feelings can definitely help, but it's often too scary or confusing as a first step. If so, it helps to find other ways to untangle them, before they start to fester and breed anxieties. Therapeutic Writing is one such way. It's essentially the process by which you realise that you often don't understand what you feel think or say until you pause to explore it - here’s how;
A: Know the difference between a feeling - a thought - and expression.
Feelings or emotions (strong feelings) are physical sensations you experience in your body. Thoughts happen in your brain to explain and make sense of what you feel. This happens unconsciously if you experience something too confusing or traumatic to process in the moment. Expression is how you can process feelings - the way you grow and learn about yourself while also making space for new feelings.
B. Know that avoiding your feelings causes problems.
Why? Because your body has limited emotional capacity - so if you avoid processing feelings by over thinking - they build up and overwhelm you, distorting your thoughts and breeding anxieties.
From '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' or 'I may need to practice / get support to learn to do that thing'.
This is especially common when you experience overwhelming events without support or encouragement. So what can you do instead?
C. Start to notice, name and write your feelings down.
It’s not easy, but it can be really helpful and is a skill you can learn. If finding the right words is tricky - 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.
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. 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, talk to a friend or get in touch with a professional for support.