Episode 9: Acknowledging Feelings to Feel S.A.F.E.


What You’ll Learn on this Episode:

– Understanding the importance of identifying, naming, and understanding the intensity of emotions to develop emotional resilience

– Exploring the concept of mindful awareness and its role in connecting with emotions

– Recognizing the importance of developing a vocabulary around feelings for better emotional regulation

Mentioned in the Episode:

Research studies on Affect Labeling (Naming feelings)

Impaired Emotional Clarity and Psychopathology: A Transdiagnostic Deficit with Symptom-Specific Pathways through Emotion Regulation

Why It Helps to Put Your Feelings Into Words: Affect labeling as a form of implicit emotion regulation.

CNetS social media study shows how affect labeling can help moderate emotions


*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.

Working with our feelings is literally a superpower that can help us weather any emotional storm. In part three of this safe series, we’ll learn how to check in and work with these feelings. This is Leadership Parenting. Episode number nine Acknowledging Feelings. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann, I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. Welcome to Leadership Parenting. 

Today, I want to continue our discussion about how to handle big feelings. In the last few episodes, we’ve talked about big feelings like being in a storm and trying to figure out how to stay connected to ourselves and just weather through it. I’ve used the phrase stay in the boat, which means how do I stay connected to myself when I have really big feelings? inside? We looked at how our brain and body work together to keep us safe and that whenever we’re having big feelings or our kids are having big feelings. There’s a definite brain response that’s going on and turning on that sympathetic nervous system or that fight-or-flight system. That fight-or-flight system can show up as that typical definition of it when we’re feeling angry or we’re feeling sad or maybe afraid. I want you to think for a minute How do you know when you’re having a feeling? How do you know? Maybe you start with some of the positive feelings. I really don’t think that there are negative or positive feelings, because I’m going to teach you here in a second that feelings are just information. We’re not judging that information, but most of us prefer to feel something in the happiness bucket rather than the angry, sad or fearful bucket. 

Let’s say you were feeling happy. How do you know you’re feeling happy? What does that feel like in your body? Do you just have the thought I’m really happy right now? Is it that you’re thinking happy thoughts, because that’s going to be part of it. Right, thoughts do create feelings. But how do you know when you have that sense of what else would be in the happy bucket? Joy, that would be an intense happiness, peace. Hmm, that’s interesting. We put that in the happiness bucket Thrilled, excited, curious. That’s interesting, curious, doesn’t really fit in the other three buckets, but that happiness bucket is. The word happy is really an interesting word, isn’t it Happy? what does that mean? So we’re kind of looking at that happiness bucket as a really big bucket that holds all of those other positive emotions. 

Once again, there’s that judgment And at all different intensities I could just wake up and be like, hmm, i just feel this calmness, this peacefulness in my body And that just kind of feels. I feel content, i feel happy, and for me it’s like I’m looking for where that is in my body And I want you to be thinking about that too. I want you to be thinking what do I feel and where is it in my body And how do I know I’m having that feeling And what’s the intensity? And when it comes to the research on this, what we’re finding is that the more you’re able to connect with what it is you’re feeling, observe it, identify it and the label it and I would add, you know, understand what the intensity is of it the more you are able to regulate your emotions. It’s like if you can’t figure out what it is and you don’t know where it is, and you don’t know how big it is, and you don’t know what it is. How are you supposed to work with it, how are you supposed to kind of be with it? Which explains a lot about why we often run from our feelings or want to numb them out, or often get caught in that trap of I need to feel something different. So I need you to do something different so that I feel something different, which once again falls into that trap of believing that our feelings are coming from what people do or don’t do or what happens around us, instead of understanding they’re coming from what we think about, what’s happening around us, and so there’s a lot of pressure put on us to control and manage feelings. So that language, that language that we’re looking for around what is a feeling and what’s its name? and can I name it? Can I do? I have enough words in my vocabulary to be able to name the feelings that I’ve got, to understand them, to know them and give them a name, and this is actually something that we work on when I’m working with someone around, particularly especially with anxiety. 

It’s interesting how much we use the word anxious, as a cover, and I don’t think that this is conscious. It’s not like we’re diabolically using this word so that we don’t have to look at our other feelings. But it’s just that anxiety is just this kind of great cover word for all sorts of other emotions that we’re feeling. And I know that when I’m feeling anxious, i will hold myself to this question and it usually helps me unlock that anxiety. I’ll ask myself, lee, if I couldn’t use the word anxious but I had to describe this feeling what word would I use? And now I’m forced to start to look and to identify what is it I’m really feeling. So when I say I’m really anxious about my kids going off to college and being home without them and them being away from me, and it just makes me really, really anxious. 

Well, if we could use other words besides anxious, what other feelings might a mom have about her kids going away to college? You know, when I say anxious, then I kind of have to say the words I’m afraid of them going to college. Am I really afraid? Hmm, maybe, maybe I have some fear for their wellbeing or their safety. But how big is that fear? And for me, i maybe had a little bit of fear and I would say, in intensity-wise it made it more weariness. Do you see how we use intensity to find another word that fits in that bucket. That kind of gives us more of a sense of what that feeling is. 

But when I went through this, when my last daughter went to college, i really held myself accountable to look for some other feelings besides anxiety, and what I found was sadness, and what I thought was gonna be debilitating sadness was actually just a little bit of sadness that I was gonna miss out on a lot of things in her life and I was very close to her and to all my kids And when they’re away it’s hard to stay connected, it’s hard to stay as close as I wanted to be. And then I was able to actually work with that feeling a little bit better, because I just kind of kept going on in my head and saying, expressing it like I’m just feeling anxious, that there’s just so much to do, i’m just so anxious. And then I thought wait, i think I’m actually feeling a little bit of sadness And now I’m starting to unlock understanding and awareness and also start to look for what it is that I’m thinking and the story that is in my head, so that I can work through that and start to decide how I’m gonna handle that feeling. And we’ll get into all of that later, but really having a vocabulary around feelings is so important And, as a parent, it’s really important to be able to give your kids that opportunity to develop language to express their feelings. Okay, so this process that we’re talking about, this connection, this observation and connection to ourself this is a mindfulness process, and you’ll hear that word a lot in our culture right now, which I’m really happy about. 

Being mindful really is about observing, not judgmentally, and just connecting, and so that’s pretty simple. To be mindful, and it cannot be. It’s not always easy, right? Because big feelings, big emotions, sometimes painful and I’m asking you to just notice them. So why? What are we getting out of this? What’s the purpose of all of this? Because sometimes just numbing them out sounds like such a better idea, but it’s so important for us to recognize we don’t need our feelings to go away. We don’t even have to obey them. Remember, feelings spur us on to do things, so we don’t have to obey them. We just need to be able to work with our own body so that we can get calm and soothed and be able to get to that higher brain, and our goal is to experience those feelings and ride them through to the other side. So if we’re in a storm and we’re riding through the storm to the other side, what’s waiting on the other side? Well, it’s interesting that all the things that are waiting on the other side start with a letter C, and I noticed this years ago and I’ve noticed that people have picked up on this and kind of coined them, the C’s, and so I’m gonna just read them, because I think they’re the things that come when we’re able to be mindfully aware of our feelings and not be quick to shut them down or act on them. So the C’s connection We’ve talked about that, a feeling of calm. In other words, i’m managing this, it’s not managing me. 

Clarity When we’re able to stay with our feelings and take them as information, we’re going to get clarity. We’re gonna be able to start to have that information to help us understand what’s going on and especially what we can do about it. It takes courage, courage, to be able to feel what we feel and then sort through it. It requires compassion, to be gentle with ourselves, to not just be frustrated that we’re feeling this feeling or judge it. That non-judgmental attitude gets replaced with a compassionate attitude And we can talk a lot more about self-compassion, curiosity. When you start to see your feelings as information, then really it can peak your current curiosity and you can start to gather that data and be deciding what you wanna do with it. It allows for creativity. Instead of shutting us down into a response that it’s very threat-oriented, we can start to be creative about how we’re gonna handle these feelings and maybe what we might do to work with the thoughts and maybe even come up with some solutions, ways that we want to act, and eventually it provides us with confidence. 

So let’s talk for a second about what confidence is. Confidence is really described by knowing that you’re gonna be able to handle whatever happens. I’m confident as a therapist because I have enough experience and enough sense of tools available to me that anything that’s gonna happen in my office, i have confidence I will figure out how to handle it. It doesn’t. I don’t have to know. I don’t have to know everything that’s coming my way and plan and prepare for it, because I have the confidence that I have the basic tools to handle anything. 

Now let’s talk about your feelings. If you have the basic tools to work with your feelings, then there’s nothing that you are afraid of feeling because you will be able to handle it. And the first step in that is recognizing that mindfulness process of being able to call a feeling what it is, what it is for you, what it’s feeling like for you, and the next steps in the safe process have us look at the thoughts that are creating that feeling And it’s there that the power really starts to come into our hands. We can’t just jump in there first, because the feelings knock us off our feet and can make us kind of lose that sense of connection to our ability to think clearly. But if we can stay with the feeling, not be afraid of it, it will give us information and we’ll be able to work with it. We’ll be able to go then into all of the other steps And we can be confident. Think about what life is like if you’re not afraid of the feelings that are gonna come your way. Think about how much, with that joystick of feelings, we move toward and away from things because we want to control how we’re gonna feel about it. 

I have taken years planning, thinking about, talking about, dreaming about having this podcast, about teaching women these concepts outside of the therapy room, having them be accessible to everyone, and because I had some fear about maybe not knowing how to go about it or maybe I’ll feel embarrassed or maybe I’ll feel like disappointed if I try it and it doesn’t work That it kept me from doing something that I really wanted to do until I kind of figured out what was going on And then I remembered, lee, you can handle any feeling that comes, even the hard ones. I want you to think about all the things you see your children avoiding because they’re fearful. We might be able to see it easier in other people. You could start to notice it in yourself. And so this confidence isn’t about not. I’m confident that I can do this and not have the feeling That’s not really possible. You’re not going to walk through life with never having difficult feelings. It’s just not possible. And so the confidence comes from saying you know what, whatever I feel, i will be able to handle. And the first step is being able to call it what it is, name it, deal with it, and the next step will be how to work with the stories that create the feelings. So I know we’re not there yet, but I want you to be able to have this first step in your awareness as we go to that next one where we really start to make the changes that will adjust and help us cope with the feelings that we’re having. 

Okay, that’s your foundational overview of feelings. So now let’s talk about that A. In safe, the A stands for acknowledging, acknowledging what you’re experiencing. This involves you being an observer in your moment. That’s that mindfulness without judgment. And, like we’ve talked about, the judgment triggers that threat response. So it actually will set you back. It’ll cloud your vision if you’re like, oh my gosh, this is really bad, i’m feeling this way. No, it makes it harder to deal with your feelings. So self-awareness this is a self-awareness step. It depends upon your non-judgmental observation. We really need the space to just observe, to just be right where we are. Like, i can’t stress how critical this is. It’s just so simple and it is often skipped. 

So first step is wow, something is going on. We’ve noticed in safe, we recognize that we’re in some kind of big feeling. We’ve got our, our body is feeling some feelings inside And we want to be able to say, wow, something’s going in my body, going on in my body And particularly. I think that that could be the quickest way to get into this feeling zone I want you to get used to monitoring your body sensation so you can create a kind of emotional thermometer, like my thermometer is my hand And I use it all day long as I work with clients. And I noticed this because I do a lot of virtual video sessions. 

And I noticed one day, in the little tiny spot at the top of the screen where I can see me in the camera, i noticed that I kept putting my hand to my chest. I would talk with them about you know what’s going on for you right now, and there my hand would go on my own chest, almost like I was saying to a kid let me feel your head, let me feel your forehead. How hot are you, are you? do you have a fever, like? if I could, i would lay my hand on your forehead or your back and read your body sensation so I could help you connect to those emotions you’re experiencing. And unfortunately, you know I can’t do that for you, no one can do that for you, but you can do that for you, and acknowledging what you’re feeling is such a smart and a compassionate thing for you to do for yourself. 

It’s just gathering that data, and so the question I want you to ask is what am I feeling in my body? And then put your hand there. If it’s your chest, put your hand there. If it’s your head or your back or your shoulders or your stomach, put your hand there and meet it. This is all you have to do. It’s really this physical connection and it can be done completely without words. You can also say it out loud, if you want to yourself. 

I have a tight ball of like nervousness in my gut or my head is throbbing or I feel it in my chest and it’s hard to breathe. You don’t have to put words to it, but sometimes you might find that that helps you describe it, anything that helps you observe and narrate what’s going on. But remember it’s only observation. There’s no judgment here. You’re just hovering over your emotions, which gives your higher brain time to filter and organize and show up. Kind of come on board to help you out. 

So what am I feeling? If you can answer it quick, great. Where is it in my body? How big is it is the next question. You can measure that level of that intensity by using a number scale. There’s something called the subjective units of disturbance or a SUD. I just like a zero to 10 measuring stick. How much does this upset me? How big is it? But you can also use like zero to 100. Sometimes I’m working with someone and they’re like 10 isn’t big enough, this is way bigger, and I’m like, okay, let’s pop over to zero to 100. When I’m working with kids, like I mentioned, i’ll often use animals. What’s the size of it? Sometimes I’ll ask a client to close their eyes and envision a ball that matches the size of that feeling. Is it a golf ball? Is it a tennis ball? Is it a basketball? Is it one of those big exercise balls that you can sit on? So you’re checking in to just take that temperature, what am I feeling and how big is it? The next thing I want you to circle back around to is the name. Okay, i’ve felt it in my body, i’ve measured it and this is the name. 

Once you notice you’re having that strong emotional reaction, you can start to describe it. I am having the feeling of anger and you don’t have to be that precise. I like to say it that way because you aren’t angry, meaning you, you aren’t anger itself, and that’s how we use it in our language and it’s fine to say it that way. Just you know, i’m feeling mad, i’m angry, i’m sad, and the feelings wheel can help you find a feeling that matches what is happening within you. And once again, the more words you have to describe your feelings, the more power you’re going to have to be able to regulate and work with those feelings. So it’s a great idea to practice finding the variety of words and even kind of work with them to get the word that best represents what you’re feeling. Your brain is going to thank you for this By labeling what you’re feeling. You’re literally saying it’s okay, you’re scared. Right now Your brain says Phew, at least I know what that feeling is. Your higher brain is stepping in and getting involved And that alone starts to calm down your threat system. Once again, it’s that connection And that’s going to help you better decide what you want to do next. 

So you might know immediately what you’re feeling, or you might have to do a little research, and you can always treat labeling feelings like shoe shopping You try the label on and see if it fits. Am I feeling sad? I mean like if you, if you know you’re feeling sad, you don’t need to do this. But if you’re just like I, just have you ever just been like I don’t feel good, like I just feel bad, like well, my kids are a little. We used to call that the uh-oh feeling And even now my husband and I will look at each other and go, i just have that uh-oh feeling, like if you don’t know exactly what it is, go feeling shopping, try the label on, pause and check in with yourself, see if sadness resonates. Am I feeling angry? And then you pause and you check in. 

You might not say you’re angry, but you might hear a little voice in your head say not angry, just frustrated. Great, go with that, don’t argue with yourself. There isn’t a right answer. Remember, we’re not judging this. Just notice, this can be really hard for some of us who’ve been told, or maybe taught, that we aren’t supposed to feel certain feelings, and I think that’s a well-meaning uh, teaching that that parents or teachers or coaches or whoever we you know are in our lives that teach us those things. Um, they’re probably well-meaning. Let’s give that the benefit of the doubt. Um, because people don’t. You know, we say to people all the time don’t be sad, don’t be afraid, don’t be angry, angry. And I think that, once again, our language can help us and sometimes confuse us. 

I think when I say that to my child, don’t be sad, i’m not really trying to negate their feelings. I think more accurately said is I. It makes me sad to see you sad And I don’t want you to feel those sad feelings. Um, the other way of dealing with that is called validating. I see your sad and empathy. I’m getting a feeling of how that might feel for you and it hurts And I’m I’m. You know you’re not alone with this. 

I think that a lot of times, that’s what we mean when we say don’t be sad. Um, i do think there are times where, uh, we really are told you’re not allowed to feel that way. Just stop it, don’t feel that way. Well, these are these great problems And um, and we’ve all experienced that probably in one way or another, and we maybe even give those messages to our kids, but we need to be able to give them other messages, which is it’s okay to feel what you feel. 

Um, a while back, i visited with a wonderful woman who had a death in her family and um, i was talking to her just recently and she said you know, lee, the one thing you said to me that I’ve just held on to was it’s okay to feel what I feel. And, um, i said, it’s true, it is okay to feel what you feel, and that’s what I’m saying to you. It’s okay to feel what you feel. You need to feel what you feel. That’s not the end of it, and I think that’s the scary part. If I just feel what I feel, what if I just drown in this feeling? I want you to remember feelings come and they go, um, there is even some research that feelings last about 90 seconds. 

That’s been the research of how long the biochemical wave of an emotion stays in your body And of course, it can get re-triggered with um more thoughts, and so you can kind of have multiple sessions of that wave. But what we’re trying to do here is focus on the particular wave of emotion that you’re having, knowing it’s probably only going to last a minute or two, and if we can get our bodies connected, it’s very possible that we’re going to soothe our body enough that we can bring down some of that intensity and start to be able to think more clearly and maybe even change some of the um things that we’re thinking about that are causing that feeling, um, which would give us some great relief, um, and help us problem solve. What we’re going to do So you may have been taught it’s not okay to feel your feelings, and I’m going to try to unteach that with you is that it is okay to feel your feelings. It’s not okay to act on every feeling. Okay And we say that to our kids It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not okay to hit your sister, um, and and we’re separating those things out, uh, and I want you to be able to have confidence in being able to, you know, parse those pieces out, and that’s part of what we’re focusing on today. 

When we stay with that feeling, we let it roll for 90 seconds, or maybe it’s a couple of revolutions, maybe it’s a couple of 90 seconds. It does recede, it does subside, and if you have to ride the wave several times, you can ride the wave several times. Can it be that simple? And the answer is yes. I’ve got research and articles to support this. I’ll try to put a few of them in the show notes. 

I want you to understand how valuable this practice is. It is deceptively simple. It may be easy for us to kind of lay out. It’s not always easy to do. I understand that You’re trying to interrupt, like this river of rushing water. That’s how I see big emotions, like a fast river of water that’s sweeping us away. You don’t have to stop the water, you just need to see what’s happening and kind of tag it or call it. Your mind is so powerful. It knows how to calm you down when it has the chance to work together with all the parts of your brain in your behalf. So I really want you to buy into this idea because it’s key to giving you some internal control back, and that’s exactly what makes us more resilient and more confident. 

So the key exercise in A for acknowledge in the safe process is summed up in what I call the emotional body check, and it’s a check in with your body and it goes like this What am I feeling, where is it in my body and how big is it? Three short questions. I put the three questions in this order because they flow well and they start with your main goal, but you can start with any of the three questions, depending upon what you might notice first. In other words, you might notice you’re in distress and say, oh, something big is happening with me right now. It’s like a 10 on the scale of zero to 10. It’s a 10 of something. It’s like an elephant on my chest. Where is it in your body? My chest and my stomach, maybe a little in my head. What am I feeling? Oh, is it anger? No, is it fear I’m having the feeling of, and then you fill in the blank sadness or maybe one of the subtler feelings that fall into those categories. Or you might already know what you’re feeling because it’s familiar. What am I feeling? Anger and sadness, maybe a little fear. Where is it in my body? Mostly in my chest, a little in my stomach. How big is it? Anger’s like a five and the sadness is hmm, you’re taking your temperature. It’s bigger than I thought. Maybe I have more sadness, maybe the sadness is bigger right now. 

Interesting to hear that curiosity, that observing, that lack of judgment. I love the word interesting and we’ll use that a lot. It’s the embodiment of observation and it reminds us to stay curious and observe rather than judge. Okay, that’s it. That’s the activity, that’s the exercise Emotional body check. What am I feeling? Where is it in my body? How big is it? 

You are practicing mindfulness. You are practice affect labeling, you are practicing integration of all of the parts of your brain and you are connecting to yourself, which in itself, is going to calm and soothe your body. Your nervous system is calmed through connection. This is a skill that, if you practice it, you’re going to get better at it. And we’re all practicing, we’re all works in progress. We’re at different stages of understanding how we work and how this emotional regulation works, and so practice is a good thing, and I invite you to do just that. Take this in the back of your mind when next time you have a feeling and just check in with yourself. Take your emotional temperature and play with it a little bit. Resilience is fun, it gives us skills, it’s all good, so I’m hoping that you can see it as a positive and give it a try this week. 

Thanks for spending time with me today, and I look forward to visiting with you next week when we go over F for flexibility in the safe model. Take care, hey. Thanks so much for listening. To catch all the details from our show today, you can find show notes at my website, leighgermann.com. That’s L-E-I-G-H-G-E-R-M-A-N-Ncom. Thanks again and I’ll see you next time. The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again, and take care.


This podcast is not intended to provide mental health treatment.  Leigh Germann is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and not a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist.  She does not provide diagnosis nor offer therapy through the LeighGermann.com website or in the information offered on the website. It is important that you do not disregard professional medical or mental health advice or delay seeking professional medical or mental health treatment because of any information on the LeighGermann.com website including but not limited to blogs, newsletter, videos, podcasts, e-books, programs, webinars, courses and other services. Leigh Germann and offerings on LeighGermann.com are not providing legal or financial advice, business advice, psychotherapy, supervision, religious advice, or medical advice. The information contained on this Website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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