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Emotional Intelligence: Feeling Your Feelings

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Part of being emotionally intelligent is feeling your feelings, not just thinking them.

I don't actually have to make sense, I just have to be willing to be in the messy middle. Let me explain.

Something I've been working on for almost a decade of therapy is figuring out how I can feel my feelings, and how I can share those feelings with other people. I've developed bulletproof coping mechanisms throughout my life, and that means I have a hard time crying, I have often looked to others to tell me what is okay to feel, and my feelings have lived on a steady diet of mental novocaine, denial, and avoidance. They are thoughts instead of emotions.

I think my feelings rather than feel them.

I intellectualize my feelings because that's easier than feeling them. I say things like "I think" when I should really be saying "I feel". I describe the situation instead of the emotions. I hold life at arms length- observing, analyzing.

I have journals full of my thoughts about my feelings. And while that is helpful, it's also leaning too hard into feeling by thinking. It's like needing to eat, and then just thinking about food instead of eating it. It's the way that has felt most comfortable and safe my whole life.

I am great at talking to other people about their feelings, helping them feel comfortable with what they are feeling, identifying it, shifting it, feeling it. But when it comes to me, I have felt like my feelings had to make sense before I could tell anyone. That I have to look like I know what I'm doing. I have thought that if I don't make sense I will be rejected. Ridiculed. Humiliated. So I shut myself down and worked very hard in my own head to figure things out by myself. Because of this, I can feel lonely and alone, and misunderstood. This is not working for me anymore. I don't want to be an arms length observer of my life, I want to experience it!

I thought feelings were about internal vulnerability, being willing to tell myself the truth about what I'm feeling, but it's more than that. It's also an outer vulnerability- the vulnerability of feeling like I don't make sense, I don't know what I'm doing, and being willing to risk being seen in that space. I can let people see my doubt and confusion and they won't hurt or reject me because of it. That's huge.

I learned that my feelings don't have to make sense for me to share them. I don't have to have it perfectly figured out to say it out loud.

I am angry at the way we are shown that we have to look like we know what we're doing to be accepted and valid.

I am angry at the relationships I kept at arms length and the opportunities for closeness that I missed because I thought that I had to look like I had it all figured out to be loved.

I am angry that we teach ourselves to hide in the moments we most need to be seen.

The emphasis on thinking our feelings is totally killing our ability to feel, which hurts our ability to connect and belong. Why do we erase our humanity when it is the thing that moves us most? I know I feel connected to almost everyone when I see them struggling, or they have doubt, or uncertainty, and I know the last thing I'm doing is judging them. Mostly I feel compassion, and want to be supportive- so why wouldn't others feel that for me too?

Also, something we forget is that if someone judges or ridicules us, we can have our own back. We don't have to abandon ourselves! Our own belief in ourselves matters. It counts. Maybe we might look foolish, or feel humiliated, and then the story goes on, it doesn't stop in that one moment. We move on, live past it, create our own next chapter.

I don't actually have to make sense. Having emotional intelligence means I can feel my feelings- sometimes clumsy, sometimes awkward, sometimes messy- and that is just as valid and important as the times when I do have it all figured out. The more I practice feeling my feelings rather than thinking them the more alive I feel. There is a world inside of all of us, a glorious, tough, and tender place that doesn't require us to make sense. It is a place that uses feelings as intelligence. It is a place of freedom.

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