To get started, think about an area of your life with recent strong feelings, something that’s current and alive for you right now. Reflect on your experience of that. When was the last time you got caught in that loop or found yourself reacting in that old way that isn’t how you want to be in the world? Jot down a short list of feeling states you felt in the course of this experience.
These feeling state names do not have to be part of the standard lexicon for emotions. Allow yourself to be descriptive and creative. Names people find useful range widely, from descriptions of sensations, to the effects of the feeling, to the intentions of this part, to the behavior it motivates. Here are a few examples taken at random from my files:
- Playing It Safe
- Generalized Hatred
- Fog / Shut Down
- I Want
- I Can’t Have
- Rigid Control
- Doubting Myself
- Get On With It
- Twisted Stomach
- Cutting Ties
- Mental Fireworks
- Heebie Jeebies
- Simple Me
Please put aside any training you may have had about what constitutes a “real” feeling name. Most existing systems of identifying and working with feelings are semantic in nature. Semantic systems rely on careful definitions in an attempt to categorize what is inherently an infinitely complex field of experience. You want to feel free and supported in defining your experience in whatever way is relevant and meaningful to you.
In addition, semantic systems of working with feelings assume that feelings are a special class of experience, different from cognitions, for example. What we discover in Feelingwork — and this is very important — is that every conscious experience has its foundation in the felt sense. Even if you want to map the experience of “thinking,” or “distracted,” these experiences have at their core a feeling state which can be mapped just as any other feeling state. Even something called “numbness” — which is often interpreted as the absence of feeling — is itself a feeling state fully amenable to the mapping process.
Having named a specific feeling state, you’re ready to dive into mapping. Or you might find it helpful to explore and identify related states. It adds more context to any state you choose to map, and helps you start to see the full extent of the issue you’re choosing to work on. The following is an exercise you can use to more completely unpack the feeling states embedded in the issue you’re exploring.
A Simple Exercise to Create a List of Relevant States
Clear a space, in your mind and on paper. Decide what issue you want to work on, something around which you want greater choice and freedom. Give that issue a name and write that down.
Now, write one statement that is true for you about this issue. Get as close to the core of the issue as possible. A few examples:
- Jeremy hates me and that makes me upset.
- I procrastinate too much with important projects.
- I freeze when I have to give a presentation.
- I don’t get along with my boss.
- I’m confused about whether to stay with Sandra.
Read the statement aloud or say it internally to yourself, and continue with “…because…” and complete the compound sentence. Write the second half of the sentence as a new statement. Do this again using the word “…therefore…” after either of the statements you’ve written. Repeat, going back and forth as you intuit best between “…because…” and “…therefore…” until you have a few different statements written down or until you start repeating yourself.
Now ask yourself, “What else is true about this issue?” Write a new, different statement if one comes to mind, and repeat the process. If nothing new comes to mind, stop there. Here is an example list of statements to give you an idea of what you’re going for.
- I don’t get along with my boss.
- He’s a jerk.
- I’ll never succeed in this job.
- I’m a failure.
- I don’t deserve this.
- There’s nothing I can do about it — I’m stuck there.
- I’m not happy.
- Nobody else likes me at work either.
- The whole thing makes me angry.
- I need to stay small.
- I’m afraid to call attention to myself.
When you’ve finished generating statements, review them one at a time. What is the feeling connected with each statement? Write a name for the feeling beside each statement.
Now review your feeling names to identify any duplicate feelings, even if they have different names. For example, “timid” and “hesitant” might be two different names for the same feeling state. Choose the best name or write a new name for that feeling state and circle it. Circle all the names of unique feeling states.
To decide which one to map first, consider choosing whichever one feels closest to the surface of your experience in the moment. Pick a feeling state that will be easy for you access right now, or easy to remember what it felt like in a specific, preferably recent, moment.
If you like, use the following audio to walk you through identifying states to map: