3 Steps You Need To Know When You Don’t Know What You’re Feeling Momma

If you’re feeling all! the! feelings! right now momma, you’re not alone! So many of us are carrying above and beyond the normal load we carry and some days it feels overwhelming in ways that never seemed possible. In the midst of juggling online learning, working from home, laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, and everything else I’ve found myself in survival mode. And part of survival mode means I’m last on my never ending list of things to do.

The struggle is so real to navigate the tsunami of feelings going on right now and I just don’t have time for it. I’m sweeping them under the rug but I’ve known myself long enough to know that those feelings will come out one way or another and it’s usually not in a healthy, productive way. Maybe that sounds a little like you too?

And it occurred to me that if I’m going through this, I bet at least one or more of my fellow mommas is too. So, I reached out to my friend Wendy, a registered psychotherapist certified in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, and asked her if she’d help us through this, and holy moly did she deliver!! I’m beyond thankful to her for her contribution below and the 3 step process that’s made a HUGE difference not only for me but for my husband and 6 year old, as we’ve been putting it into practice recently. We’re talking big, helpful breakthroughs in navigating meltdowns and tantrums! I snapped the photo below while my husband was working through Wendy’s process with our oldest.

Our family putting this feelings process into action! (it’s truly a candid photo, notice the half eaten baby food and other items on the table. I like to keep it real around here, lol)

I hope it helps you momma! Below are Wendy’s insightful and loving words, and the 3 step process you need to know when you don’t know what you’re feeling.

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Oh, beloveds, this is so hard; all the feelings are swirling in and around us, and we’re adrift in uncharted territory. I’m so sorry – for my losses, for your losses, for the world’s losses. Intentional mothering is fraught on a normal day (remember those?!), and now it’s pretty much nonstop whitewater rapids.

We’ve been unceremoniously dropped in the deep end of survival, and our feelings are getting little to no care and attention. I mean, who has time to attend to her feelings when she’s trying to transform a bandanna and hair ties into a face mask? Or homeschool her bored, restless kids while the baby cries? Or figure out what’s for dinner…Every. Single. Night. I get it; I see you; I am you.

And also…

And also, untended feelings will have their way eventually. Untended feelings of grief and loss and anxiety are why, when I spilled an entire bag of coffee beans on my kitchen floor recently, I LOST MY MIND and went into a full-blown rage. It was just coffee beans…but in that moment it was also ALL THE BIG FEELINGS that had been piling up in my heart and body coming out sideways.  Feelings are meant to be FELT; feelings are an integral part of the human experience. And, believe me, they will have their say one way or another.

Many of us were taught (consciously or unconsciously) to avoid, resist, deny and repress our feelings. Maybe we’ve been told that internal processing is selfish navel-gazing; or that tears are to be shed in private; or that it’s not “nice” to express anger—especially for girls; or to hide our struggles from our children in order to be good role models.  As a mental health professional (and a fellow human), these emotionally detached ways of living break my heart; they leave us grievously disconnected from our own lives and experiences, unable to live whole and free. In the mounting pressure and powerlessness of our present reality, let’s see if we can set a new intention of honoring our hearts by feeling our feelings.

I’ve come up with an acronym of sorts (NoVA) for my clients who are doing “feelings work,” and I’m sharing it here in hopes that it will be helpful and comforting for you, too.  

1.   (N)ame: name your feeling; be as specific as you can. 

Print out a feelings wheel, click here for the one I like, and get acquainted with the big, beautiful spectrum of human emotion! Oftentimes, when feelings aren’t well-named, they bleed out as “mad” or “annoyed” or “numb.” These are valid feelings, of course, but they’re often masking the truer deeper feeling(s). As I stood, fuming, in the middle of several thousand coffee beans, I remembered what to do. I held still, took several deep breaths, and allowed my REAL feelings to surface and be named. Inexplicable rage gave way to exhaustion, fear, and anxiety. They were right there, masked by anger and aching to be seen and named.  

Try it out: sit down for a few minutes (lock yourself in the bathroom?!), consult the feelings chart, pry up the manhole of your “go-to” (inaccurately named) feeling, and practice giving what you’re feeling its real name. If you have little to no practice feeling your feelings at all, that’s fine! Start where you are; look at the chart with curiosity and openness (You can practice this with your kiddos, too – model emotional intelligence to them and begin a new legacy!). So simple and yet so profound: “I feel ______.” 

2.   (V)alidate: offer your named feeling(s) validity and the honor of being TRUE. 

No judgements are allowed here – we’re not assigning a moral value to our feelings, just ALLOWING them. You probably already do this naturally with your kids – validation comes when you say things like, “it really hurt when she told you to go away,” or, “that was scary when you thought the bee was flying into the house!” 

Now try it out on your own feelings: “it makes so much sense that I feel scared – this is a scary time of not knowing what’s going to happen next.” “Of course I’m feeling overwhelmed and bored at the same time, because my to-do list is huge and my energy is low.” For me recently when I spilled the coffee beans it went something like, “you’re containing a tremendous amount of loss and fear for your kids and your clients right now; of course you’re exhausted!” 

Resist the urge to compare your feelings with others’: “it’s so shallow of me to grieve the cancellation of my daughter’s college graduation ceremony when people are dying all alone in hospitals.” Yes, things can ALWAYS be worse, but that’s no comfort to your very real, very now feelings. Remember, “your hard is hard.” Practice validating your feelings without minimizing them. My losses are valid, and so are yours, and so are our kids’.  Engage in the macro AND the micro; they are equally needy and worthy.

3.  (A)ttune: be with your feeling; picture yourself holding hands with it and giving it care. 

You do this naturally with your children when you scoop them onto your lap to comfort them while they’re crying. I like to ask my feeling, “what do you need?” More often than not, it just needs to be named and validated! There’s such bodily relief in that. Sometimes, my feelings need a warm shower or a brisk walk or a Netflix break. At the very least, try this: once you’ve named and validated the feeling(s), put your hand on your chest and imagine warmth flowing from your palm to your heart. Breathe in love; breathe out light. Do this a few times and then go on with the next clamoring thing!

The whole NoVA process needs only a few minutes, especially as you get better at naming your feelings specifically instead of going mostly to anger/frustration or “fine” (Gah! No one’s fine right now!). Stick with it; keep practicing. Model it for your kids (of all ages), your partner, your friends. Try it at the dinner table with your family, tape the feelings wheel to your bathroom mirror.  Give your feelings the space to surface, to express themselves accurately, and to be seen and heard with loving kindness.

Feelings (even the hard ones) are meant to be felt.  Every single one of us has systems that minimize or catastrophize or repress our feelings – systems that keep us disembodied and disconnected. Integration and freedom come as we choose anew with kindness and hope.

May you be well (in the midst), and may your next question be, “how am I feeling?”

Click here if you could use even more encouragement and support, tips and tools to help you worry less, and a little mom humor thrown in for good measure.

Wendy Valentine is a registered psychotherapist with a private practice in Westminster, CO. She specializes in working with women of all ages who desire to live “not by default, but by design.”   She is certified in Narrative Focused Trauma Care and Internal Family Systems, but being an entrepreneur, a mother to five (mostly grown) children, and a fellow traveler on the healing path are her most meaningful accomplishments. If you’d like to get in touch with her, she can be reached via email at wendy.c.valentine@gmail.com

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