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Psychotherapists often ask questions like “What’s going on inside of you right now?” or “what are you feeling as you talk about this?”  We do this not because we are sadistic, but because paying attention to what’s going on inside is often an important step in addressing depression, anxiety, stress and other things that make us unhappy.

We’ve got a lot going on inside of us at any given moment.  Our minds are very busy, full of thoughts and emotions, much of it going on in the background; that can make it very hard to define exactly what we’re feeling or what is going on inside us.  This is especially true for men, who often have grown up learning to control their emotions rather than express them.  How can we gain greater awareness of our internal world?  Here are some steps:

  • Check in with yourself from time to time.  That’s especially true when some event has happened that causes you to feel something intense.  (Intense feelings are understandably easier to identify.)
  • Start by taking a few deep breaths.  Breathing gives you the space you need to pay attention.  And while you’re at it…
  • Don’t judge yourself, your thoughts or your feelings.  Feelings bubble up or come on us with the force of a tidal wave.  Everyone has them.  Believing you shouldn’t feel the way you feel is a great way to get stuck in the feeling!
  • What do you notice?  Can you give a name to the feeling?  Some emotions – anger, for instance – can usually be identified quickly.  Other feelings, like hurt, can be surprisingly tough to label.  You get extra credit for digging a little deeper and noticing if there is another feeling next to or underneath the first one.
  • What thoughts accompany a particular feeling?  Feelings are often connected to thoughts, beliefs, or judgments of our selves or others.  Often these thoughts are irrational.

If you’re feeling something negative or painful, take a moment to consider how you can treat yourself with kindness and compassion.  Accepting yourself and your feelings for what they are is an emotionally healthy thing.  And remember that feelings are something that you have, not something that you are.  Your feelings can and will change, often in a breath or a heartbeat.