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We've Forgotten How to Feel

Updated: Apr 2

In the grand symphony of human experience, there are five fundamental emotions: anger, joy, fear, disgust, and sadness. Each of these emotions is a spectrum in itself. Anger can manifest as irritation, frustration, or even rage, while sadness may take the form of melancholy or profound grief and so on.


In our upbringing, emotions often get labeled as either positive or negative. Crying might be seen as a sign of weakness, and expressing anger as inappropriate. We unwittingly assign a value to our emotions—joy is good, everything else, not so much.


It's crucial to recognize: there are no negative emotions. Each emotion serves a purpose and carries a specific function. They are signals, designed to protect us or convey something important, like the need for attention or a call to be alert. Unfortunately, over millennia, we've misinterpreted and misjudged these signals.


In our early years, the purpose of our emotions is most evident. As babies and toddlers, we aren't yet conditioned; we simply are who we are. Anger or frustration, for example, helps us establish boundaries and assert ourselves. It's a necessary force for development, a way to say "no."


The same principle applies to fear, which prompts our nervous system to close off, offering protection. Sadness slows our system down, prompting calmness and requiring rest, essential for our body and nervous system.


Disgust allows us to purge things, quite literally, and joy opens us up to our surroundings.

Core emotions: Joy, fear, disgust, anger, sadness

Our body mirrors these emotions through various physical expressions—tense muscles, clenched fists, stomach knots, shivers, chills, tense jaws, extended arms, or a huddled posture. Our body becomes the canvas reflecting our emotions, a crucial aspect of interacting with others.


As I explained in a recent post, emotions are physical, sensory perceptions. Unfortunately, we've lost touch with our bodies, forgetting how to truly feel and perceive what's happening within us.


In most families, there are one or two emotions deemed unacceptable to feel or express. As we grow older, we tend to compensate for these suppressed feelings with other emotions. If, for instance, we're raised not to express anger, we might unconsciously replace it with sadness, leading to more frequent bouts of melancholy in adulthood.

First Contact with Your Emotions

Once we recognize that all emotions serve a purpose and hold importance, we can take a closer look and feel what happens when we experience emotions.

Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor introduced the 90-Second Rule, suggesting that when we react to something in our environment, there's a 90-second chemical process in our bodies behind it. After that, the emotion is over. If we linger in an emotional reaction beyond these 90 seconds, it's because we choose to remain in that emotional loop.


This loop creates our story or narrative. We link emotions to experiences, and by doing so, we create our own story. Allowing ourselves to feel an emotion for just 90 seconds, then breathing and resetting, helps us break free from this narrative, preventing the development of unhealthy behavioral patterns.

For example: I am on a date. The other person says or does something that I don't like or don't approve of. The result: I feel a form of anger.

Now I have two options:

A: I feel inside myself for 90 seconds and express my anger about it, say what I feel and set a boundary.

Or B: I don't vent my anger and remain in the emotion for the rest of the evening and probably days afterwards.

What happens with option B is that our unconscious connects what has happened with my story and any underlying beliefs such as "All men or women are inattentive or assaultive or ignorant or smart-alecky...", as it links previous experiences with the emotion of anger.

If I choose option A, I am aware that an emotion wants to give me information at that moment. This emotion wants to tell me, for example, that I should set a boundary because anger doesn't feel good. So if I say what I feel, the anger can disappear and I not only create a different experience, but also a more authentic relationship with the other person.

Listening to our body feelings, which are created by our sensory perception, helps us to connect with the reality of our present experience and not with stories created from potentially inappropriate beliefs. Based on our reality, we can make decisions that are right for us.

Does it all sound very simple? Just feel what's going on for 90 seconds. You'll see that it's not that simple, because we have forgotten how to feel inside ourselves, as many of our intuitive reactions to a physical stimulus have been suppressed or remodeled.

Working with Your Emotions

In body psychotherapy, the goal is to separate individuals from their stories and bring them solely into the realm of feeling, especially with emotions that are challenging for us, like fear or anger. Working with the body and movement allows us to be present, avoiding immediate connection with our past and personal history. This decoupling prevents us from assigning an immediate meaning to every feeling. We allow ourselves to simply feel, laying the foundation for an authentic self.


One of the most challenging emotions to feel physically is fear. It can feel threatening. It took me years to connect with fear in my body. Before that, I compensated for fear with anger since I could relate to anger well. I had no idea how fear felt in my body—dry mouth, sweaty hands, coldness, foggy thinking, slight dissociation, and a deep-seated tremor. Living in anger, it was challenging to delve into fear. Whenever fear scratched the surface, my protective mechanism triggered anger, shielding me from feeling fear. This, in turn, led to many unhealthy decisions in my life, but more on that in another blog post.

Closing Tip

Watch the movie "Inside Out." I often recommend it to my clients. It provides valuable and light-hearted insights into how our emotions work, offering a delightful understanding of our intricate emotional landscape.

If you would like to learn more about your emotional and feeling world, arrange a non-binding, free initial consultation.

Or register for my next workshop from July 05 to July 07, 2024 in Vienna. You can find more information here.


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