The Benefits of Feeling Your Feelings (in Dreams and in Life)

Lately, I talk and write a lot about the healing medicine of feeling in dreams. I realize, however, there is an assumption I am making when I encourage people to become aware of their reactivity in dreams, and guide them toward the deeper feeling beneath.

The assumption is that we all know and agree upon the idea that feeling your feelings is a healthy way of processing events and interactions in one’s life, and that with feeling one’s feelings comes short-term and long-term benefits to your health and well-being.

For many of us, however, that’s not actually a given; especially for those of us who have learned to suppress, repress, push away, ignore, or run from our feelings as a coping mechanism in response to trauma or various conditions, such as anxiety, PTSD, or neurodivergence. In fact, we don’t have to have a diagnosed condition to simply believe that feelings get in the way of life. We may have determined that we are simply too busy to feel or that certain feelings indicate weakness or imperfection. Further, there are some memories and dreams with associated feelings that feel too terrifying to even remember, let alone linger in.

So, I want to write a little bit about the benefits of feeling (both in dreams and in waking life). Some may apply to you and some may not. As always, if you are struggling with feelings that are too difficult to be with on your own, as a result of dreamwork or any other spiritual growth work, you should seek support from a mental health practitioner. I’m saying this sincerely, from personal experience: sometimes our dreamwork elicits very strong feelings or brings up painful memories that we have suppressed for a very long time. And some of us may require additional help from a therapist or counselor in order to process and integrate those feelings. 

Some Benefits of Feeling Your Feelings

When you allow yourself to really feel in response to an event or encounter, rather than automatically react, you get to know yourself better. We may think we know ourselves really well. We also may think we are really good at recognizing and feeling our emotions. But our dreams quickly show us otherwise.

One way to get to know ourselves better through dreamwork is to begin to notice how we react to encounters in dreams. For instance, have you ever paid close attention to how you react to a stranger appearing in dreams? Are you welcoming of the stranger or fearful of the stranger? Are you purposeful in your interaction? Are you curious or do you make quick assumptions?

Re-enter a recent dream in which you had an encounter with a stranger. Are you able to slow down the encounter and tune in to what you’re feeling in the moment of encounter just before you react?

Most of us don’t notice in waking life or in dreams how we really feel just prior to or at the start of an encounter with a stranger. We quickly put on the “mask” or the “armor” of how we have learned to be around strangers, for better or for worse.

Wary. Polite. Guarded. Cautious. Defensive. Overly effusive or complimentary. These are just some examples.

But do you know how you truly feel in the presence of a stranger, just before you act in the way you’re so practiced at acting?

When we work a dream together, I ask you questions about your dream encounters, and you may discover there is a feeling that comes before a reaction. Slowing down the dream, you may have a chance even to feel what is stirring inside you in the moment just before you react.

Fear? Excitement? Maybe it changes depending on the way the stranger looks or what you believe about the stranger in the dream.

Your feelings may be a surprise to you! Once we slow down a dream, slow down our response to the encounter, we start to understand more about ourselves and over time, we learn more about our approach to interpersonal relationships. It may lead to greater awareness in waking life of your reactivity. More awareness leads to more choice. For instance, you can choose in the moment if you still want to be wary of the stranger or if it’s possible the stranger is there to help you.

Some people are very moved to uncover and feel the feelings that precede their reactivity. Feeling fear or pain, for instance, as difficult as that can be, often leads to a willingness or desire to release it. It may lead to change.

Which brings us to our next benefit …

You may think you “don’t care” or “already dealt with” or “worked through” that injury from long ago, but you may be holding on to feelings you’re not consciously aware of. If your dreams keep bringing up situations and encounters that are reminders of an old wound, it’s likely you never deeply felt the pain originally, or that you simply have more feeling to do about the incident. As children and adolescents, we are not encouraged by most adults to feel our pain. Most adults can’t tolerate their own pain, let alone witness (with love and support) the pain of children. Adults — sometimes even well-meaning ones– will tell us that “nothing happened,” “it’s no big deal,” “tough it out,” or “you’re better than” that person who made fun of you, shamed you, bullied you, or rejected you. As kids, we do learn resilience as a response, and there are benefits to that. However, we also learn how to hold on to energy that’s meant to be felt and released.

The drawbacks to becoming tough or telling ourselves stories to try to lessen the pain, is that we get really good at being tough and telling ourselves stories instead of feeling pain and releasing it. We bypass feeling over and over again. Those feelings never get deeply felt, and it’s through feeling that true, deep release comes, both physically and spiritually. Emotional release reduces tension in the body. It creates space for new feelings. It leads to insights and realizations. It allows us to hold ourselves and others in compassion. It teaches us empathy, which allows us to build and maintain social connections with others. Further, unfelt, unreleased feelings may lead to energy being stuck in the body; creating short-term or long-term physical pain.

Yes, avoiding or ignoring our feelings allows us to temporarily be “in control,” but our feelings are still actually running the show from behind the curtain. When we are unaware of the feelings that are causing us to react, or when we react from our conditioned way of being, we aren’t actually in control of anything (if being in control is even possible in a life of uncertainty.) We are on auto-pilot; acting in a way that is an unconscious or conscious attempt to not feel pain, shame, surprise, rejection, overwhelm, or any other feeling that creates difficulty for us or a sense of being out of control.

To know oneself deeply is to know how one feels in any given moment. This is not an easy achievement, but to better know how we feel enables us to make better decisions, and to choose from desire rather than fear, shame, or defensiveness. It instills in us a greater sense of agency in a life that is often uncertain and ultimately out of our control.

Some of us purposefully get good at “not feeling” with the idea that if something surprisingly hurts us, we won’t feel the pain as intensely. Guess what? You can’t get away with “not feeling” only the “bad” feelings. When we numb ourselves to feeling, we also limit our ability to feel joy, love, recognition, pleasure, and connectedness.

Sometimes, too, we avoid feeling not because we are afraid to feel, but because we are afraid of what people will think of us if we express or show our big feelings.

But, time and again, I have witnessed for myself and others that feeling our feelings in the moment teaches us that we are in fact stronger than we believe we are, more capable of moving through intense feeling than we believe we are, and that other people want or need us to express our feelings more than we think they do.

It’s true that in our fast-paced, high-demand society, there is often not much tolerance, patience, or time for strong feelings. I know this and suffer from this myself. If your reason for not feeling is fear of imperfection or fear of being shamed or fear of falling apart … I get that. 

That said, anyone who has suffered from a specific phobia or anxiety knows that exposure therapy can be a successful treatment. For those of us who are shut down to feeling or believe there is no room for feeling in a busy life, feeling our feelings in a dream or a dreamwork session is a kind of exposure therapy. It slowly gets us used to feeling, and shows us how we are still okay even in the midst of feeling and afterwards. It’s one way, one hour a week, to feel and to release your feelings. It’s also an opportunity to test the water, so to speak, by having big feelings with a witness.

These are just a few of the benefits to feeling, both in dreams or in waking life. There are plenty more and I hope to dive into those in a future article. 

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