By Kelly Wright
July 23, 1997
I told myself I was going to journal daily as I began my counseling practice. Well, six weeks have gone by and this is the second entry. Why do I not make time for this? I feel like an imposter… I encourage all my clients to journal and yet I never do. I know writing out my thoughts and feelings would make a huge difference with my anxiety and compulsiveness. I need to take my own advice, “Physician, heal thyself.”
If you have ever met with me, I can guarantee you left with a feeling words vocabulary list in your hands. The Feelings Words Vocabulary is a sheet that lists the full spectrum of emotions—happy, sad, angry, scared, confused—at varying degrees of intensity. It is a great tool to help articulate what you are feeling. At the top of the sheet is a model for processing your feelings as you name them. This model is: “I feel __ because __. The truth is ___.” I joked that my next tattoo will be the phrase, “I feel ________ because ___________. The truth is _________.” The feeling words vocabulary has been the foundation of my counseling since day one.
I developed this vocabulary because I felt that there was a gap between theory and practice when I was in graduate school. We read books and articles that we need to deal with our feelings, but my question was always, “How?”
When I wasn’t able to find the answer, I pieced together a list I had collected from a marriage retreat and a few options I found online. The vocabulary I use isn’t all inclusive but it’s a helpful place to start.
But, there is a common question that keeps us from actually engaging in the process, which is “Why do we need to deal with our feelings?”
Lysa TerKeurst writes, “Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift…self-control.”
We begin having feelings before we’re born and especially experience feelings when things don’t go our way. But early on in most of our lives, we learned to shut down these powerful indicators. Instead of dealing with what our feelings were trying to tell us about ourselves our situation, and the world around us, we excelled at stuffing them down and ignoring them.
We wouldn’t ignore an indicator light on the dash of our vehicle. When the smoke alarm goes off in our house, we wouldn’t dismiss it. And yet, how many of us are ignoring the alarms going off in our hearts because we are ignoring our feelings?
The truth is if we don’t deal with our feelings, they will deal with us.
If we don’t process our feelings, they become dictators in our lives. Behind every unhealthy behavior are unprocessed feelings.
It took me a while to take my own advice. As I encouraged others to journal their feelings daily, I often felt like an imposter. I truly believed it would be so incredibly life-giving for everyone I met with to process their feelings daily and yet, in my own life, I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching.
Thankfully, several years ago, after experiencing years of feelings dictating my life, I took the plunge and made the commitment to journal every day. It’s part of my daily routine and has been so incredibly life-giving, eye-opening, and heart-sustaining.
I wonder, would you be open to take a few moments each day to pay attention to what your feelings are trying to tell you? The indicator light is on for all of us. Will you take a step to deal with your feelings so they no longer deal with you?