BECOME AN OBSERVER OF YOUR THOUGHTS
For one full day, try to just notice the many thoughts you have about everything. Check in whenever you notice where your mind takes you: when you are getting up, taking a shower, driving in your car, making dinner. How negative or positive are your thoughts? Are they judgmental and critical of yourself or others? Are they exaggerated? Do they promote fear? Are any reassuring or compassionate? Are any really helpful? What happens when you try to not have any thoughts? Do the best you can to write about your experience.
We think you will agree that if someone followed you around all day, talking to you the way you talk to yourself, you would say they were intrusive, mean, overbearing, and extremely critical. You would want to get this person out of your life, and we would encourage you to do just that.
There are many practices often thought of as spiritual, such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, which are designed to help you learn to separate or free yourself from your mind. These practices can help you learn to identify your thoughts and let them pass, knowing they are not you. When you can do this, the negative, critical voice that fuels your eating disorder will lose its power. Other resources to help you start learning to observe and free yourself from your thoughts are The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, Waking Up by Sam Harris, and Mindsight by Dan Siegel. Carolyn’s new secrets, Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient Healing for a Modern Illness, discusses how yoga helps free the mind, reconnect body and soul, and heal from an eating disorder. We will return to this topic in Key
Given that your feelings are a driving force behind many of your behaviors, it is important to have the awareness and skills to navigate, understand, and respond to the feelings rather than react to them. It might be hard for you to imagine, but you can learn to feel and accept your feelings without judgment. You can also learn to let them go, releasing their energy from your body.
Feelings are important and bring richness to your life. Ideally, your feelings alert you to things in life that need and deserve attention. If you avoid or keep your feelings out of your awareness, you won’t know what you need to do to help yourself. If you don’t know whether you are lonely or tired, you won’t know whether you need to connect with someone or take a nap. Conversely, if your feelings take over and overwhelm you, you will probably make choices that in retrospect will seem irrational once the emotional charge has died down.
It is important to learn how to respond to feelings in a helpful way, or how to let them go so they don’t take over and wreak havoc in your life. We got so much feedback from readers on the feeling section in Key 4 of our 8 Keys secrets that we decided to share some of them here, followed by our responses.
I read Key 4 of your secrets and Ijust don’t understand what you mean by Feel your feelings.
We mean just that. Don’t try to stop your feelings or shut them down. Don’t assume that some feelings are bad and you should not have them. You can’t control how you feel, so don’t judge yourself for your feelings. Feelings are experienced in your body as well as your mind. Your mind creates thoughts to go along with the feeling you experience in your body. If you feel sad, just notice where you feel it in your body sit with it and allow it. This is the quickest way through. If you feel sad, talk about it or cry. Allowing yourself to feel your feelings will help them to dissipate and get out of your body. It is also helpful to notice if there are conditions that change your feelings, like being tired, hungry, sick, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
When I grew up, my feelings were not allowed so I learned to shut them down. It is automatic for me and I’m not sure if I can be taught to feel my feelings. ‘
Many of our clients have learned to shut down their feelings and need help allowing the feelings to just be. We realize it is hard when you have trained yourself not to feel, but you can get this back. Your body is going to help in this process. When you shut down, you know it; you have physical and even mental markers and signals telling you that you need to shut down, and letting you know when you do. You can begin to explore those, and interrupt the shutdown process. You will hear us say over and over that describing what is happening in your body helps you get in touch with what you are feeling because feelings have a physical component. Even describing what shut down feels like in your body is a way to begin.
I hate feeling. I despise vulnerability. I’ve spent years trying to shut off that part of me. After a year of therapy I still try to find a way to work around’ this issue offeelings.
First we would ask that you get clear about why you hate feeling. There are many positive feelings, such as joy or relief, and you probably don’t hate feeling those (though we know some might say they don’t like positive feelings either). The point we want to make is that as a human being, it is inevitable that you have feelings, and if you try to shut yourself off from negative ones, you impair you ability to feel positive also. But in reality, you will have feelings; learning how to handle them is the key.
Feeling vulnerable is uncomfortable for most people, so you are not alone. It might help to understand the purpose of vulnerability. Simply put, without it, it is hard for others to connect with you. Avoiding vulnerability doesn’t make you strong, in fact it takes courage and strength to allow yourself to feel vulnerable. When you are vulnerable and those around can see your humanness, their own vulnerability is awakened, allowing a connection on a more intimate level. Connection is a basic human need, so avoiding it not only won’t protect you from harm or being hurt, but it will actually set you up for it. Without authentic human connections you are still vulnerable vulnerable to addictions and compulsive behaviors. We can’t survive without connection, so if not connecting to people, you seek it through substances or behaviors. In order to recover, it’s important to take small steps in allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Taking a risk, like finding the safest person you know and telling them how you feel about something, while at the same time stating your fear around doing so, is a start. It is important to note that vulnerability means fear of something.
Assignment: Make a list of what you think might happen if you are vulnerable. We realize that since being vulnerable promotes connection and intimacy, working on this area may bring up past wounds that need healing.
How do you know what your feelings are in the first place? What if you can’t identify them?
One way to identify a feeling is to check in with yourself and notice what you are feeling in your body, and what you feel like doing about it. For example, if your fists are clenched, your face hot, and you want to scream or hit someone, this is usually called anger. If your heart is pounding and you feel like running away, you are probably scared. The terms anger and scared don’t really matter though because they are just shortcuts we have all learned to use in order to describe what happens to us when our body takes on the energy of our thoughts. Your body is a guide to your feelings. You have probably had the experience of someone saying, I’m not angry, but the way they are standing the position of their arms, and the tone, tempo, and volume of their voice indicates otherwise. Which do you trust, the verbal or the nonverbal information?
Sometimes people don’t stay with their feelings long enough to identify them or they know what they are feeling but invalidate it because it seems physically or emotionally intolerable. Sitting quietly and checking in with your body, noticing what is going on inside you without judgment or running from it, is the first step in identifying feelings and will help you move beyond them, getting your body back to neutral.
For various reasons, all of us are more comfortable with some feelings than others. For example, Carolyn is far more comfortable with sadness than anger, and Gwen is more comfortable with anger and scared of being sad. Looking into our two different reactions and responses to these feelings might help you explore your own feelings and reactions to them