Shari Brickin, MA. MFTI provides Trauma Therapy in Valley Village, CA
Trauma survivors often state that they feel too much or that they feel nothing at all. Both feeling states may result in the sense of a loss of control. Since control is often what is lost during a traumatic experience it is particularly problematic to survivors. However, feelings greatly affect our mental and physical health, as well as, our behavior and actions. While we would like to believe that we could bury the feelings that we do not want to face, repressed feelings have an insidious way of making them known either physically, if in no other way, whether we wish them to our not. In an attempt to suppress our feelings we may engage in unhealthy coping behavior that can create an additional cascade of issues.
It is important to give yourself permission to experience your feelings without over-identify with them. You are not your feelings. Your feelings are your feelings. Feelings are purely mental responses to your unique experience of an object that may be pleasant or unpleasant – and all things in between. Practicing mindful awareness of feelings allows you to experience them without just reacting to them. When you practice mindful awareness of feelings, you allow yourself to feel them physically, observe them, and notice the space they occupy in your mind without reacting to them. Rather than grasping at your feelings (“That guy IS a jerk!”) you observe them (“I am having a reaction to that guy”).
Stuffing down feelings takes tremendous energy and usually creates a tidal wave of feelings that can be overwhelming. Thankfully you can manage to feel your feelings through mindfulness and other therapeutic interventions in a way that supports emotional and physical wellness.
Here is one simple 5-minute mindfulness exercise:
- Identify a time and place where you can be quiet and uninterrupted by life’s distractions.
- Sit or lie down, close your eyes (or leave them slightly open if you are more comfortable) and bring your attention to your inner experience.
- Focus on your breath to bring yourself into the present moment. Notice the coolness as the air as it comes in through your nose and the warmth as it leaves your body.
- Notice your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations as they come into your awareness. Allow them to exist without judgment. You do not need to solve them or force them to go away. Let them pass over you like a gentle wave then slowly bring your attention back to your breath.
- This exercise alone will help you gain some important information about yourself. You can be curious about your feelings without over-identifying with them. You can have feelings without being “controlled” by them.