When I first started writing about emotional unavailability five years ago, a common problem I experienced and encountered with so many others, is that we don’t really understand our feelings and connect the dots to what we’re experiencing and factors that may be impacting. This may be because we are out of touch with our feelings and not used to vocalising and validating how we feel, but it may also be because we’re very practised at ignoring any ‘difficult’ information so that we don’t have to experience conflict or make difficult decisions.
At the time when I was connecting the dots about my own emotional unavailability, I was also working on my health after struggling with the immune system disease sarcoidosis. I became super aware of my body and how I reacted to foods and as I started jotting down notes about what I was eating, I thought it would be handy to also keep notes about how I was feeling and the circumstances surrounding it. One of the first things I had to acknowledge was that I found interactions with my mother emotionally and sometimes physically draining. With a guy I dated I realised I was very neutral and hanging back because he was so over the top and self-involved that I would mentally leave the building. When I thought back to the ex with a girlfriend, I realised that often after I spent time with him, I suffered with migraines.
I started suggesting to readers that they too keep Feelings Diaries and I remember one woman in particular emailing me to thank me for giving her back her sense of self and saving her time. She’d been convinced that she was crazy about a guy she was dating but after tracking how she felt, she recognised that not only was she dating the same guy, different package, but that she was very anxious around him and very enamoured with who she thought he was, not who he actually was. She ended it, continued keeping a diary, and a few months later ended up in a relationship with someone who she was totally at ease with.
A Feelings Diary is an empowering opportunity to learn about and connect with yourself.
It’s basically keeping a journal or ‘notes’ on your feelings to help you understand and process them by identifying shifts and what triggers a change in mood so that you can pinpoint how different factors are impacting you, such as:
How you respond to specific fears.
The impact of the other person.
The impact of events and incidences.
Shifts in your mindset and how you react to these.
Anything that feels familiar.
What you perceive are the consequences to experiencing the feelings.
For the purpose of making a Feelings Diary a really productive and simple task, I’ve found that it’s best to stick to short notes and include bullet points as it makes it far easier to spot patterns so that you can find ways to tackle them rather than being hijacked by your feelings.
Common situations where you should be using a Feelings Diary are:
When you are building your self-esteem and striving to be authentic in your actions and interactions.
When you have trouble identifying what you feel and why.
When you are primarily fear driven and experience a lot of anxiety and bring drama into situations where there is no real need for it.
When you’re No Contact or just generally broken up and are trying to process your feelings and work through the loss.
When you’re tempted to get in touch with an ex.
When you feel that there are problems in a relationship and/or are contemplating ending it.
When you’re not sure how you feel about someone.
When you’re starting to date again and ensuring that you don’t get carried away and love and trust blindly.
When you’re feeling down.
In your Feelings Diary, you need to capture:
Mood – What primary emotions are you feeling? Do you feel good or bad? Down or up? What is your general mood? Write down a few words if you need to and note if there are any conflicts. For instance you may say you’re happy but at the same time afraid. Acknowledge why you feel afraid. If you think there is a consequence to what you’re feeling, note it. For eg, If you associate feeling angry with a consequence of confrontation which you try to avoid by suppressing how you feel.
Eg, Are you happy, sad, elated, flat, depressed, angry, disappointed, horny, bored, vulnerable, afraid, anxious, frustrated, powerless, enraged, helpless, aggressive, incapable, resentful, jealous, possessive, ashamed, bad, good, optimistic, pessimistic, empty, embarrassed, passionate, excited, affectionate, loved, unloved, secure, hopeful, sensitive, hyper-sensitive?
Event – To get a sense of how your mood relates to what is happening in your day to day, note any events/incidences surrounding your mood. Where were you? What were you doing? Was there an occasion? If your mood suddenly changed, what exactly were you doing/experiencing at that time? Noting the event may remind you of other emotions you were feeling.
Example – It was their (your ex) birthday/You had a run-in with your boss/You spent the day doing nothing.
Trigger – What has been the trigger for these emotions? This is your opportunity to make the link between how you feel and the days events. Eg Sad. Quiet day at work. Had a lot of time to think. Sometimes the event may feel like the trigger but try to identify something specific about the day/event/incident that sparked your mood.
Lesson – Is there something you’ve learned from these three things (mood, event, triggers)? This is a bit like joining the dots. You may not learn something every day, but if at a later date, you experience something familiar and you feel it’s important, make a note and see if you can spot a pattern. For example, I’ve learned that when I feel pressured (but not super pressured), I’m very productive.
When I’m bored and am not occupying my mind and my time, I get nostalgic about my ex and feel tempted to break contact.
Being afraid of cutting the tie with someone because you feel vulnerable,
When I feel angry and disappointed with myself, I comfort eat to make myself feel better and then feel ashamed and even more angry with myself.
When I feel inadequate, I react to this by being defensive, aggressive, and attempting to control others which crosses boundaries and ends up isolating/alienating me.
I’m upset that they didn’t call because I feel unloved and am afraid that I am being abandoned but recognise that I’m getting very carried away.
When they say they want to do something with someone else, I feel rejected because I think people who really love one another should only want to be with each other in their spare time.
Example of a Feelings Diary entry:
Example: Jan 6th, Bored, lonely, and anxious. Decided not to go out last night so had a lot of time to think about Y. Started thinking about the good times. Wonder what they’re doing/if they’ve changed. Felt hopeful and excited. Texted. No response yet. Starting to regret already.
What they can learn from this is that when they opt out of opportunities to be with other people, there is the potential to end feeling lonely and bored which gets the mind meandering to thoughts of their ex. They get nostalgic, get hijacked by their imagination, and act on impulse and text to stem the boredom and loneliness and then regret it when they haven’t heard back yet and are filled with the familiar anxiety that comes with waiting around for an ex to reply.
If you want want to work on being emotionally available, a Feelings Diary is a great way of helping you to capture, acknowledge and experience your feelings so that you don’t shut off parts of you. It will also ensure that you validate how you feel and connect your thoughts with your actions and what results, so that if there are things that you’re experiencing that you’d like to change, you can focus on finding solutions to improve how you feel or the situation. Sometimes you’ll even discover that when you’ve thought you felt a particular way because of someone or something else, it may actually be because of an internal dialogue you’re having, which may actually stop you putting undue pressure on a relationship. You may find that an event triggers a familiar negative feeling from your past and basically revisits old wounds. You may also realise that you’re really not as happy as you’ve been pretending to be with a situation or person, and that’s OK, because now you can give yourself permission to acknowledge those feelings and actually do something about it.