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DBT 24: What do you feel?

Yup, not how, but what do you feel.

I for the longest time hated the question “How do you feel?” “How are you doing?” It’s really loaded question for anyone. I hated being asked when I was physically ill, do you want to hear about how I am in so much pain I debate killing myself? I hated being asked when I was mentally ill, do you want to hear how much... well actually it’s pretty much the same answer for physical illness. Let’s be honest, most people don’t want to hear that because it’s hard to hear. So I lied.


“I’m great! The sun is shining.”

“Oh this funny thing happened!”

“Did you see this cat video?”

And basically any half truth I could take an weave into a feeling that I could make myself feel in order to convince other people that I am good.

So what do you feel? And well, it’s not quite as simple as the LEGO chart. What I wouldn’t give to feel a simplistic emotion.


<-That’s probably more like it. I tend to feel several emotions all at the same time, which generally feels like my entire body screaming or like the highest of euphoria mixed with hysterical laughter and or crying. All of that basically becomes noise. It’s pretty hard to figure out and sometimes I just kinda lay down and forget about it. Or I hit that emotional overload were I slump over and just freeze up. I don’t really hear or process anything. I become locked inside myself. Eyes wide open, but basically catatonic. Sometimes it manifests as depression which is basically an emotional aggregate. Depression can be a weird collection of just about everything, and then repressed into stillness and inactivity. I often skip anger and go immediately to rage.


So what exactly do you do with all these messy feelings?

You name them.

Step 1. Notice that you are having the feelings. (Other feeling deniers will need to note that you do in fact have the feelings as much as you don’t want too.)


Step 2. Take a deep breath. If necessary remove yourself from the thing that is causing you a lot of feeling. (“I need a minute.” “I need to go.” “Hold on for second.”)

Step 3. Start naming your feelings and/or their location. What does this feel like? Describe it. It might be “It hurts my brain.” “it’s hot.” “I feel a tightness in my throat.” (You’ve may have noticed that you might not have names for them, but locations in your body. After years of denying feelings, I feel them as physical pain.)


Step 4. Name them if you can. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated, I’m really horny, I think this might be ennui? And you might need to say the emotion to yourself or out loud until it feels right. For example, I can’t stop laughing when I say out loud “I’m sad.” I can’t say it without smiling because I am so use to hiding being sad. Also saying “I’m safe” makes me laugh too.

I find myself getting really confused about what I feel. When this happens I slowly have to identify and name them. I found out another screw up that was done to me and I got an emotional rush. Slowly I had to identify all of what I was feeling, and even name things I didn’t want to.


“I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m frustrated, I’m happy, I’m excited, I’m ashamed, I’m powerful, I’m despair, I’m peaceful, I’m worried, I’m aggressive.”

I was ashamed to admit the excited and happy part, which when I asked about those feelings to new therapist she told that people who have been abused will often feel excitement and a rush because they get pumped with adrenaline to help deal with the situation. But, as a result they also get addicted to it, and will unintentionally seek out trouble to get the high. So part of all of this is to undo all the wiring for survival and the addiction to adrenaline.


I’ve been naming my emotions for a few months now and it really helps. Instead of confusion, depression, rage, or elation my feelings are starting to show up a little more nuanced. I can start to determine what it is they are trying to tell me. It’s not noise, but actual information I can process. It’s not always crystal clear, but it’s not entirely unintelligible nonsense anymore. What was horrible knot in the stomach has become “guarded” I still don’t know what that whole pain in my right ear means, but I’m on my way to figure out “What the fuck am I feeling.”


(Unfortunately it isn’t always a naked Tom Cavanagh)

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