5 Daily Practices to Harness and Use Your Emotions
Your emotions can provide you with guidance, energy, connection, and much more.
- Growing up in an “emotionally blind” home walls off a person’s feelings so they don’t have full access to them as an adult.
- Healing childhood emotional neglect is a matter of giving oneself what wasn’t given in childhood: emotional attention and care.
- There are five daily practices that can make a substantial change in how a person feels about themselves, makes decisions, and more.
Our emotions are the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who we are. Our feelings provide us with vital information about what we need and want, and what to pursue, choose, avoid, or allow. They energize us to make changes in our lives and they enrich our connections with other people.
Sadly, those with childhood emotional neglect grew up in home environments that discouraged and interrupted their emotional awareness and their ability to harness and use this valuable resource from within.
Emotional neglect happens when emotions are ignored or unwelcome in your childhood home. As a result, you receive a silent but blatant message: “My feelings don’t matter.” Believing this message is true, you naturally learn how to live a life walled off from your feelings. And while it’s understandable you did this to adapt to your environment, you cannot wall off your feelings without also walling off the essence of who you are.
The mark emotional neglect leaves can be significant, but that mark need not stay for a lifetime. You can reconnect with your feelings and begin to use them as they are meant to be used.
Every feeling you have carries a message from your body, many of which are very useful. Your feelings can energize you, direct you, motivate you, and even connect you to others. The process of healing childhood emotional neglect involves getting back in touch with the emotions you’ve been blocking so that you can listen to their messages and harness their energy.
Below are some healthy daily practices that I have observed to be particularly valuable for those who are on the road to recovery. Like any new habit, it takes dedication and openness to start something different. But, in many ways, the process of reuniting with your feelings, listening to them, and using them makes you feel more awake and alive.
5 Daily Exercises to Harness and Use Your Emotions
- Acknowledge and Welcome Your Feelings
This is the foundation of recovery because emotions underpin everything you do. Since you had to wall off your feelings in your emotion-free childhood home, you learned to ignore important sensations and messages going on inside of you. The first step is turning inward. Emotions live in your body and act as a compass for you to observe, trust, and follow. When you give your emotions an opportunity to speak to you, you’ll be able to see that they hold important messages that tell you a lot about yourself.
Daily Practice: Tune in to your feelings. Identify and write down your feelings three times a day.
- Work on Trusting Yourself
When you attempt to push down your feelings, you can lose contact with your own gut sense. You may end up relying too much on the opinions and perceptions of others and have difficulty following your own rudder with decision-making. Or, you may take a backseat and allow things to happen in your life instead of knowing what you want and need, taking the driver’s seat, and making them happen for yourself. The more in tune you are with your own feelings, the better you can make decisions you trust.
Daily Practice: Before any decision you make, be the first and last person you go to for guidance.
- Increase Your Opportunities for Enjoyment
Begin thinking about what you like, love, and find pleasure in. This is one of the most exciting parts of recovery, to discover your interests and passions. And it will have extra value when you find things that bring you joy—an emotion that may have been also pushed down by childhood emotional neglect. In a Duke University study by Hanson, et al. (2015), researchers found that the ventral striatum, the feeling and reward center in the brain, is underdeveloped in the adolescent brains of the emotionally neglected. Childhood emotional neglect literally changes the structures of your brain. Fortunately, this is something that can be strengthened and developed even in adulthood.
Daily Practice: Keep a journal of your likes and dislikes. Incorporate things that give you joy into your routine.
- Challenge Your Impulses
Without enough awareness or understanding of your emotions, you may be left feeling overwhelmed or scattered. Like an orchestra without a conductor, when your emotions go unattended and unmanaged, they can become jumbled and difficult to discern. You may find yourself doing things you shouldn’t, not doing things you need to do, and being overly critical of yourself for it all. With some attention, patience, and self-compassion, you can train your brain to manage your emotions and exercise more agency over your impulses.
Daily Practice: Every day, do one small thing you don’t want to do (but should do), or stop yourself from doing something you want to do (but shouldn’t).
- Uphold Your Boundaries
It takes strength to say “no” when you have learned it’s wrong, weak, or selfish. The more you can identify your emotions, the easier it will be to identify what you need, and sometimes your need involves setting a boundary with others. It’s important to know that setting limits with people in your life is essential to healthy relationships. You are allowed to say “No, I’m not available that day,” “No thanks, I’m not interested,” or simply just “No.” Right before you set a boundary, turn your attention inward and think about what is right for you.
Daily Practice: Try to say “no” more often. Keep track of the number of times you’re able to say no.
You have the power to heal your own childhood emotional neglect. With any new practice, allow yourself room for error. Taking on five new habits to begin your recovery can feel a bit daunting so I encourage you to start with the one that sounds the easiest and go from there.
Just as the first couple of workouts in a new exercise routine are tiring and leave you feeling sore, you will see positive results the more you keep at it. These five daily practices will feel more and more natural as you do them.
Your life of connection, motivation, direction, and wholeness is within reach. The path to healing isn’t necessarily easy, but it is well worth your effort.
By: Jonice Webb Ph.D. for Psychology Today