Talking about emotional feelings in general or a particularly difficult situation can often seem too overwhelming. This is where therapeutic writing can help as an accessible and less exposing way to start making sense of your stuff. It's less about what comes out to begin and more about learning how to express the feelings - to get them out on paper and be more aware of what they mean.
Below explains a way to do so and use the insights gained to solve the problem(s) rather than letting the unexpressed feelings hijack your thoughts or behaviours without your control. It can be used between therapeutic sessions or simply as a part of day to day self-care.
1. Understand the difference between an emotional feeling, and a thought.
Emotions and feelings happen in your body. Thoughts happen in your head. Feelings involve a physical sensation that is felt in the body and is then made sense of with a thought (the mental meaning and explanation you create for what's going on in your body). Often this happens unconsciously because we aren’t able to consciously process all that is happening in one go, this is especially true when difficult things happen to us.
2. Understand that emotional feelings stay in your body if they aren’t expressed. That sentence is so unfamiliar that it's worth repeating. Emotions and feelings stay in your body unconsciously if they aren’t expressed. This can be a big issue. Why? Because if the associated mental meaning created to avoid feeling the emotion is a distorted one (that person treated me badly and so I must deserve to be treated badly) is left unsaid and misunderstood it can become embedded and go on to hijack our future responses to all life's events that feel similar, limiting the actions you take going forward.
3. Think about your emotional feelings as signals. Signals to you that need exploring, which is why writing them down (or talking honestly and openly with someone) can help you properly understand them in a conscious and considered way. Trying to work them out in your own head is hard as we're social beings that evolved through connection and communication with others. Getting them out in words or on paper allows you to explore them less fearfully leading to more objective and flexible conclusions. The top-line is that we simply aren’t designed to ignore them. Our entire evolution is based on adaptation to our environment through learning from the things that don’t go well and evolving our approach to allow us to keep moving forward.
4. Learn to notice and name your feelings by writing them down.
Allow yourself 10 to 15 minutes now and again to write what you are feeling and what thoughts connect to those feelings. Try including these phrases "I feel...... because.... or.....happened and now I sense......" and "I realise now that......…. This has made me understand....…" It could be what you remember feeling earlier in the day or week or month or are feeling at that moment. Finding the right words can be a challenge so the word map below may be helpful to use as it groups expressive words we use with each of the core emotions that we experience. (Respect to W.G. Parrott for his research here) it may help to click the image to enlarge it and print it out.
5. Understand that feelings are often not absolute truths. Just because you feel angry after someone says something to you doesn't “automatically” mean that this person is attacking you or deserves retaliation. The key word here is automatically. If you view your emotions as signals you might first realise “I’m having a strong angry feeling in my body”. At which point you can explore what thoughts come up when feeling it. "That feeling reminds me of when.......". Being able to separate your thoughts and emotions will then enable you to get enough distance from the emotions so that you can think clearly and understand them and yourself better.
The more you become aware of what you are feeling and what those feelings are trying to tell you, the better you’ll get to know your self and the easier navigating life will become. You might feel a bit emotional at first, but this feeling should pass. If it doesn’t, stop writing and talk to a friend, family member or get in touch with a professional for support.
To release mental and emotional stress and grow your self awareness, therapeutic writing can be a powerful tool. Give it a try, you may be surprised by the results.