Learning to Feel Feelings isn’t Always Easy by Lynn C. Tolson


This week I am pleased to have Lynn Tolson guest posting here on Emerging from Broken. Many of you know Lynn; she is a frequent commenter and contributor to the conversations here in EFB. Lynn is an advocate and the author of “Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story” ~ Please help me welcome Lynn and as always, please share your thoughts in the comments section.


Learning to feel feelings Isn’t Always Easy  by Lynn C. Tolson

In therapy, clients talk about their feelings. Therapists ask, “How are you feeling today?” Conversations with my therapist(s) frequently sounded like this:

“Lynn, what are you feeling?”   

“I don’t know.”

“You must be feeling something.”

“No, nothing.”

“Please, tell me what it feels like.”

“I don’t know.”

I shrugged my shoulders, which was not an acceptable answer to the question of “how are you feeling.” How should I know? I had no clue, no compass, and no map to lead me through the hot and sweaty tropical jungle of twisted emotional thorny vines that lay strangled with family secrets and lies.

My step-father had taught me to deny my feelings at seven years old. He said, “Whenever someone asks you how you are doing, you say, ‘Fine, thank you,’ no matter what.” He added, “Speak only when you are spoken to.” He raised me under his spell of “children should be seen and not heard.” These powerful childrearing dictates led to the cold, calculating climate of control that froze all feelings into a block of ice that could only be released when talk-therapy chipped at the surface decades later.

What I felt was numb, which is a suppression of real feelings. Talking about my experiences and emotions in therapy years later did not feel good. If/when I felt, I felt crappy. Even in the company of a therapist I sensed I was safe with, one whom I trusted and developed rapport with, I dared not enter the realm of emotion. I was afraid to unlock my heart and uncover emotions. If I felt a bona fide feeling, I would surely go insane.

I felt all alone. Loneliness envelopes my being, seals me in a tomb lacking air. I am trapped in the darkness of my heart, all alone, Choking and grasping to find tender loving care.

With that admission of feeling in the form of prose, my therapist taught me that putting words to experiences and the emotions they carry can dispel the hold they had on me. She said, “As your fears recede, courage will emerge. Love was locked inside, shielded by fear. When the darkness of fear disappears, the light of love appears. You built walls around yourself to block out bad feelings, so you also blocked out any good that could come your way. You perpetuate pain by locking up feelings.”

My therapist explained that the depression used to cover up emotions can become a permanent part of the personality. She said, “The symptoms of anxiety and depression you experience are not personality flaws but the consequence of childhood wounds. When you excavate and explore emotions, you allow the fear to fade.” Digging deep like this may alleviate the depression, and allow room for expansion of joyful feelings.

I also had to accept that emotions are transitory, universal, and can co-exist. I had to trust that feeling would not drive me crazy. I learned that feeling could lead to positive emotions, especially L-O-V-E. I understood that in my head, but I needed to feel it in my heart. Transformation from fear to love requires more than rationalization and intellectualization. Healing transpires from fully feeling emotions, and then taking necessary action, like this: determine the cause of an emotion, identify the feeling, and acknowledge its presence. Honor an emotion in the moment; just be with it, and that is more like going sane.

My therapist and I started with where I was at: scared to death of the world at large. There was a pervasive apprehension that cast an ominous shadow on my world. Slowly, we examined the fear to make it manageable. With each exhale of fear, I could inhale the courage to face my fears, feeling compassion for myself and others. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” That is how we learn how to feel.

Contributed by Lynn C. Tolson, advocate and author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story

Lynn C. Tolson

Please visit Lynn C. Tolson’s blog at http://beyondthetears.blogspot.com/

Bio: After her first eighteen years in the Northeast, Lynn Tolson moved to the Southwest where she engaged in careers in real estate and property management. During those years, she survived post-traumatic stress disorder, which manifested in addictions and suicide attempts. Through the therapeutic process, she determined the causes of her dysfunction, which included childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence. Ultimately, she was able to achieve a life that reflects health and happiness. Her memoir, “Beyond the Tears: A true Survivor’s Story” illustrates physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation; her story offers a message of hope. Tolson moved to the Midwest where she returned to college to obtain a degree in social work. She has also overcome breast cancer. She resides in the Rocky Mountains where she works as an artist, author, and advocate


100 response to "Learning to Feel Feelings isn’t Always Easy by Lynn C. Tolson"

  1. By: Numbed Posted: 13th October

    I trust my therapist. Not sure if I’ll be able to release bottled up emotions. I’ve journalled my feelings. She wants to help me reexperiencing past emotions but if I haven’t been able to this far how will she be able to get me to

  2. By: sahitha Posted: 29th July

    Oh! I remember when I used to get upset about something my biological mother would say “Why are you crying? Stop creating a scene out of nothing.” I soon learnt to squelch my tears.

  3. By: DXS (JJ) Posted: 7th June

    No kidding!

    Part of the reason we cannot “stand up” for ourselves to our parents is because we have been taught to repress feelings for so long that when we feel something “isn’t right” we cannot put a word to it, so we are unable to deal with it at the time. Thus, we “take it.”

    For me, it takes me up to a week to process what people have said to me. Then, when I realize I’ve been “had,” I try to confront the person only to be told, “That was a week ago, why didn’t you say something THEN?” I COULDN’T! That is what my mom cannot grasp! “If I had said something when I was younger I would have been treated differently.” I COULDN’T! I cannot connect to my feelings. When something bad happens, my mom is all, “keep busy, then you don’t wallow around.” NO! You still have to process it! I let myself feel it! Even if I have to lay in bed depressed! I have to get myself to feel it and get THROUGH it, not “keep busy and not feel it.”

  4. By: Diane Posted: 6th March

    I have just discovered that my 64 yr old brother is unable to handle feeling. He couldn’t listen to a program where the person was crying some when telling their story. He was unable to watch the new Bible series because of the emotions. And when he lost his job, his response to how he felt was .. I don’t want to feel, I just need to get busy. No wonder every day is torture for him .. he has no capacity for the good feelings; it’s like the darkness takes over. I wish he could sit under some really good counsel to help him.

  5. By: FragmentedHistory Posted: 28th December

    Darlene, thank you for the welcome. It is so all encompassing this healing journey and then having to deal with the day to day of being a parent and running a house. It is very easy to lose sight of the hope. I will spend some time around the blog reading some more. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  6. By: FragmentedHistory Posted: 28th December

    This is right where I am. In the midst of struggling to deal with emotions that seem to come out of no where. I have no compass with which to navigate them. I am ever thankful to my therapist who is available by phone between appointments. Once I know what it is I am feeling it makes it easier to let it pass. Until it is acknowledged it can’t move I find. Thanks for this post. It really gives me hope of moving beyond this traumas when it feels endless.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th December

      Hi ‘fragmentedhistory’
      Welcome to EFB. There is so much hope! I have completly recovered from dissociative identity and chronic depression. This site is all about how I did that and there is an awesome community here too.
      Hugs, Darlene
      (author of emerging from broken)

  7. By: Molly Posted: 27th July

    Its been a long time since I returned here.I tell you it is so hard to deal with your chilhood grief & finally relizing it all these years is not you.Then to wake up to that & see you are in a marriage that is so controlling & make me feel I can’t do things right.I have no friends& when I start to make friends I am told no there no good They are not married or devorce & are man haters.I am in such a bad place.I feel so helpless.I am 60 years old & financially good shape till i decide its time to call it quits.Then I am in a mess.I am self employed for26 years.I never been so at lost .Went to councleing & was told it is not me it is my husband .Know you can’t change him .I am sure this letter is not making much sense.All i can tell you I feel so confused ,sad & not sure of anything other then lost.Sorry for misspelled words .Well there I vented out.I feel better .? no

  8. By: Brenda Posted: 31st March

    I know from experience that emotions are difficult to feel after years of trauma in childhood. My therapist always asked me how I felt. I didn’t know. For years, my therapist and I worked on feeling emotions. He would take the chart they use for children. Then he would have me think which one I might feel. I am doing better with feelings, especially one of love. I still have moments where I have no clue what I feel.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 1st April

      Hi Brenda
      Welcome to EFB.
      Thank you for sharing your progress! As long as we are trying to go forward, we do!
      Hugs, Darlene

  9. By: J Posted: 15th February

    Hi Molly,

    Just wanted to say I can relate to feeling stuck, tons of tears etc. I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time.

    I just thought, maybe your tears ARE a first step (even if not a consciously chosen one)? As in, I tend to figure, if I’ve got all these tears & grief inside, it’s obviously there for a reason, and maybe it’s a good sign that it’s finally starting to come out after being repressed/ignored for so long.

    Hope you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts. Take care of yourself as best as you can! Thinking of you.

    Hi Kim,

    I’m really sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. Words feel so inadequate for such times, but I’m thinking of you & wishing you whatever you need right now – whether tears, rage, protective numbness, strength, peace, love. (I hope that’s ok to say, and makes sense. I guess I’m coming from the viewpoint that whatever you need to do to cope with this tragedy is ok).

    I can relate to your feelings of numbness, not knowing what to do, feeling like I should just get used to feeling s**t etc. I felt sad for you when you wondered about not being disciplined enough etc. I wonder if you could try to be gentle to yourself? I definitely blame myself for everything at times, but just sometimes I’m able to be gentle and think, if this s**t was easy and the path to healing was obvious, well then none of us would have any problems at all.

    Not sure if I’m making sense. Guess I’m trying to say I don’t think it’s your fault or a lack of discipline or prayer or anything that’s to blame. Take care of yourself as best as you can right now.

  10. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 14th February

    Hi Kim
    Many of the people here are where you are at and all of us WERE there at the beginning. The process starts somewhere. I can totally relate to what you are saying. In this site I write about HOW I overcame the guilt, shame self blame and low self esteem by finding out where it started and by finding out what the trauma events caused me to believe about myself. I hope you will read some of the other articles here; I think you may find a supportive community. You are not alone!
    Hugs, Darlene

  11. By: Kim Posted: 14th February


    I was just browsing through here and I came across this column. I am a survivor of sexual abuse and I also lost my mom to suicide a few months ago. I felt grief for her at first, now I just feel numb. I have been in therapy on and off for various reasons for over 10 years now. I don’t feel much different, and I am worried about not feeling devastated by the loss of my mom (she was not my abuser). She herself was sexually abused by her uncle. I don’t feel like I’m making much sense right now..I’m sorry. i just see how so many on this site are so in tune totheir feelings and are healing, but I am having trouble getting past the self-blame, low self-esteem, and feeling just plain numb. I guess my life started out difficult, since my dad was an alcoholic. I was sexually assaulted by neighborhood boys when I was about 12, and from then on, my life has never been the same. I want so badly to move past this and heal, but I feel like I’m not capable of it…like I don’t have it in me. maybe I’m not disciplined enough, maybe I don’t pray hard enough…etc. I don’t know what the next bsest step for me is. Sometimes I feel like I will stay this way, and should just get used to it.

  12. By: Molly Posted: 6th February

    I do not know where to begin to help myself.I read this & tears flow down ,yet I still remain lock up .Not knowing what or how to begin to start.I have hit bottom.Lost for sure.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 6th February

      Hi Molly
      Begin at the beginning. Healing takes time. I have written a lot here about “how” I did it. It might help you to go through some of the articles here. There are over 300 of them, each containing a nugget of the discoveries that I made, all of which was part of my process of healing. I know that it is hard, and at first I was all locked up too. What I am talking about in this site is not the usual methods that we are “told” to heal but for me they worked after a lifetime of trying to heal the way that I had been told which didn’t work.
      There is also a supportive community here!
      Hugs, Darlene
      Founder of Emerging from Broken

  13. By: J Posted: 17th December

    Hi Lynn,

    thanks for the reply! I need to read your original post again when my brain’s functioning a bit better (kinda skimming the site & just letting things out w/out thinking too hard).

    What you say about feeling the emotions without any cover-ups rings very true with me. I really hope that the therapy is helping you (or does soon, if it’s only recent)! I’ve only recently been paying attention to the legion of ways I “zone out” from the world. Been trying to keep a lid on some of them, but mostly just feels too hard atm. (Back to trying to be gentle on myself & trusting that I’ll do what I can, when I can).

    But it seems very positive to at least have noticed some of these things, and to at least be open to the possibility that I’ve been using them to avoid feelings. (The whole “can’t change what you don’t know/acknowledge” thing).

    Brain seems to have stopped again, so I’ll sign off for now.

    Best wishes for your therapy! 🙂

  14. By: Lynn Posted: 17th December

    Thanks to those with new comments here! I am the guest author, and I must say it was difficult to write about feelings. Both Jessica (comment # 82) and J (comment # 84) have similarities. We all do, since feelings are universal. I’m back in therapy because I am feeling the emotions without any covers: I am not covering up with pills, sleep, activity, phone calls, internet, or false face. It’s very painful to feel this fear, and to sort through the origins in therapy again. Jessica, I dare say that whatever fear you felt in going to a therapist as a child may be different now. You are an adult, you’ll go into therapy of your own volition, and you are in control of YOU. It sounds like some part of you that wants to be healthy and whole is steering you in that direction. Also, to J, it’s great that you work on trusting yourself to meet your needs. Thanks Darlene for providing this healing forum with examples of insights and breakthroughs. Cheers, Lynn

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