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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Townsend

Feeling Feelings


When people ask me what I do, the conversation tends to be centered around what areas I specialize in as a therapist. And while yes, I do focus my practice on helping folks resolve difficulties not limited to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body image, and interpersonal relationships, I have to admit that sometimes this default or expected response feels icky and problem-focused. You know?

I'll spare you of my rant on the mental health field and its historical medical model of psychopathology. But I bring this up because I feel more connected to and more aligned with being a therapist who helps the humans I get to work with feel their feelings. There is so much that happens in the therapy space: relationship building, meaning making, attunement, embodiment, support + guidance. One of my favorite parts of being a therapist is getting to hold space, advocate for, bring wisdom into, and integrate psychoeducation into my work with my clients. I love teaching and providing learning.

Okay, let's talk about feelings now.


Introducing the feelings wheel [created by Dr. Gloria Willcox, Psychologist] — Whether this wheel is new to you or not, expanding our vocabulary and learning how to identify and name our feelings is a really important part of feeling our feelings! You'll notice the core emotions in this wheel include happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, and "bad". There are varying theories of what our core emotions are. I tend to stick to teaching and using the core emotions of: Fear Excitement Anger Disgust Grief I don't consider "bad" to be an emotion because it's not descriptive enough and doesn't give me enough information about what may be happening physiologically. But hey, Dr. Willcox created this wheel in 1982. Psychology is also an ever-evolving behavioral and social science so there's always more relearning and research-addendums ahead.

feeling feelings is a practice —

I don't know about you, but I can't remember ever learning about how to feel feelings, or emotions in general. I just don't think growing up in the 90s was a particularly progressive time for mental health. I certainly can't recall receiving any mental health education in school. I do remember health class having a section on D.A.R.E., sexual education (that was not abstinence-focused, tg), and menstruation, but not much on feelings or emotional health. And that was middle school. We can't expect one "class" to provide us with all of the tools and skills for a lifelong existence of being a feeling human. Ha! Imagine a world.

where to start —

Compassion. Acceptance. Validation. You don't have to like, love, or want to feel what you're feeling to accept, validate, and be kind to yourself and your experience. Whether it's anxiety or sadness. Your feelings deserve tending to. listening to. Your feelings are valid, if even they're influenced by thoughts or perceptions. Think about caring for your inner child during feeling experiences. What would feel nurturing, loving, and caring? What wouldn't? Start with compassion. Start with acceptance. Start with validation.

validation can look like:

Telling yourself "It makes so much sense I'm feeling a lot right now. I'm being pulled in so many directions and feel spread thin."

compassion can look like:

Being easy on yourself. Not beating yourself up for struggling. Being kind and caring, as you would to a friend who was telling you how they were feeling.

acceptance can look like:

Reminding yourself it be hard right now, and this is where you are. These are the emotions you're feeling. This is how your body is feeling. Practicing acceptance of our feelings isn't saying we like them. It just means acknowledging and accepting that they're here. And then since they are, how can we make space for them?


Do validation, compassion, and acceptance feel possible for you? See what it's like to start there.

For more on feelings, I have a course on Feeling Feelings.

Feeling Feelings is an intro into how to feel feelings. I offer psychoeducation on what emotions are and what they're trying to tell you, mixed with practical steps, and a guide into the messy art of feeling your feels from the lens of self-compassion and gentle acceptance. It is absolutely not a substitute or replacement for therapy with me or another healthcare professional and is meant to be a supplement to professional mental health services you may be receiving or seeking or a complement to your own inner work.

Pop on over to for more deets & to enroll :)


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