Kate McLisky is a clinical psychologist with a background in mental health research. Kate works clinically with an integrative therapeutic approach to help clients of all ages to manage and reduce symptoms of mental health disorders.

Feelings? No thanks

If you’re reading this and are a human, it’s likely that you tend to avoid uncomfortable feelings sometimes. Mindless scrolling? A drink at the end of the day? Trip to the gym to blow off steam? Planning a dream holiday even though you have $7.56 in your bank account? Even meditating! We all find ways to shift our attention away from feelings.

Whilst some degree of avoidance is normal and can be done by engaging in healthy and helpful activities, we also need to make time to stop, check in with our feelings and see what they’re trying to communicate to us.

All feelings have something to say

It’s easy to forget (but super important to remember) that our brains have evolved over tens of thousands of years. In the past thousand years, humans’ living conditions have changed dramatically, from living in tribal or village communities and experiencing real threats to life every day (Disease! Predators! War! Famine!) to our super-cushy 21st century existence.

60,000 years ago, rejection from your tribe or the failure to find food was the equivalent of a death warrant. Without emotions like loneliness (to remind us to connect with our loved ones) or fear (to remind us to check for danger, and then react with a fight or flight response), we would be in big trouble. Avoiding and ignoring our feelings would lead to death. Today, our brains still react to rejection and failure with the same intensity, despite the fact that these experiences usually don't have fatal consequences in today’s society. The point here is that feelings have something to tell us, and they don’t like being ignored!

What even is this feeling?

Usually the feelings that people avoid are some form of anger, fear or sadness. Take a look at the list of feelings below and see if you can find a name for your feeling. Studies show that simply naming a feeling can help to reducing it’s intensity (hence the super fun phrase “name it to tame it!”).

For people who have used avoidance as a habitual coping strategy for many years, it can be hard to even identify what you’re feeling. It might just feel “yuk” or “empty”. That’s ok! You might be able to find some other way to describe it- a colour, a shape or an image. Any information helps, and using curiosity rather than judgment in engaging with the feeling makes all the difference. Find it in your body (for more on how to do this, take a look here).

What does this feeling need from me?

Once you’ve located the feeling in your body, try asking yourself what this feeling wants from you. Does it want you to run? Hide? Yell and scream? Notice that this feeling is having this response because it thinks you’re in danger. It’s trying to protect you. Thanks, feeling!

Now ask yourself, what does this feeling need? Really think about it as though you’re a parent, teacher or friend to this feeling. What might it need to help calm and resolve itself? Usually, some wise, caring, brave part of our brain will tell us exactly what it needs. It will likely need to be seen, heard, acknowledged or cared for in some way. So take one minute, and see if you can meet this need.

It might all sound a bit woo, but give it a try and see for yourself. You might just find that something shifts inside you, the feeling lets go, and just like that, you’re back in control!


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Article written by: Kate McLisky

Image credit: Hello I'm Nik at Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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