The Art of Feeling

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Image exhibited at The National Art Gallery

 E M O T I O N A L  H E A L T H 

Umma Maimuna Alam

On the last day of my college, I bawled my eyes out while saying goodbye to my friends and my teachers. I knew emotions were being processed in our minds, but why did I feel an emptiness in my chest? Being a crybaby my entire life, I knew the crying helped me to “let it out”. Whether it be anger or frustration or even a sheer amount of gratitude, I always ended up weeping my emotions out. But when I noticed some people don’t tear up when they get incensed, or some don’t show any sign of embarrassment when they do something odious, I thought others are just too good at handling their emotions.

Nevertheless, this misinterpretation of mine was broken when I noticed that some people were not as good as others at controlling their emotions — rather, they were very good at repressing them. It perplexed me that we, humans, have a certain reluctance to experience explicit, unwanted, and unfamiliar emotions. The negative feelings tend to last longer than the positive ones, and failure to cope with them can be detrimental to a person’s mental health as it can develop the feeling of being “stuck” in a constant cloud of negativity. 

Now, according to a study, when we feel something emotionally, it is firstly perceived physically. For instance, the sudden punch-like sensation we feel when we hear the news of a beloved’s death, or the tingly sensation or chest being full of air when we receive good news. Even blushing when one becomes embarrassed or shy is a physical sensation of feelings.

Psychologist Joan Rosenberg came up with a formula known as “1 choice, 8 feelings, 90 seconds” to help with the process of dealing with one’s feelings. The eight unpleasant feelings are: sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment, and frustration. These trigger physical sensations which are sent from our brain, and our body feels these for about 60-90 seconds. 

It means feelings are truly temporary. After that, there comes an equilibrium where our body and mind start processing the emotional sensations. However, we, humans, do not like to acknowledge those “weird” sensations. As we do not like to admit them, we attempt to distract ourselves from the ever-looming reality. Rosenberg identifies that avoidance, escapism, and distractions are often common, but for a long time, these are ineffective ways to respond to negative feelings which can be destructive. Humans develop these quirks in their minds where not every one of our emotions is fully acknowledged, understood, or even truly felt. These feelings, which are left unprocessed, often accumulate and turn into an uglier or more extreme form. And when you appear to be in your frail and feeble state, these abandoned feelings come to haunt you with a fierce force. 

This could explain why one breaks down into tears while hugging a beloved person after a long time. Or when one suddenly has an outburst of anger on their siblings after a stressful phase. Unfortunately, these unsorted emotions end up conflicting with our other dominant emotions, such as gratefulness, contentment, serenity, etc — much like feeling anxious when good things happen or feeling restless even when things are going smoothly. One of the most miserable outcomes is not being able to sleep properly. Insomnia takes revenge by assembling many of the thoughts which were omitted to process throughout the day and make the nights horrific. 

Processing emotions is essential to be taught and learnt throughout life, because what we feel is often contrary to what we show or do. Processing one’s emotions requires a necessary amount of compassion and care for ourselves. Avoiding these will lead to greater damage beyond measure.

“It’s about awareness, not avoidance.”

So, Rosenberg introduced one choice — “to be present.”

Ponder the moments you have denied your feelings; focus on that specific feeling; pay attention, and reason your way out. This way, one can start unraveling their true self, and just like tightening our muscles after exercise, our minds will become stronger than before. Insights will follow; we will feel calm and relieved. We can start feeling comfortable in our skins.

Practising mindfulness of one’s thoughts can help decrease stress, depression, and anxiety. This mental and emotional presence will make you feel capable in life, and you can develop better outcomes with health, relationships, and yourself. So, as humans, we should try to perceive our true feelings instead of forcing ourselves to be numb by not feeling at all.  


Being INFJ, Maimuna is constantly curious and chasing the thrill of living. Reach out to [email protected] for any thoughts to share.


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