So you’ve figured out you’re intellectualising your emotions – and you want to know how to stop.
Let’s check we’re on the same page here. You know you’re intellectualising your emotions when:
- You talk about upsetting events but you don’t feel upset.
- You say, “I’m Fine” even when you’re not, you don’t actually feel fine, but you don’t really know how you feel.
- You talk a good game about your feelings (even in therapy), but you don’t actually feel your feelings.
Imagine, for a moment, you’re at a wine tasting. The host speaks eloquently about the history of the wine, the vineyard, the growing season. They describe the harvest, the crushing, the fermentation. They point to the wine, sitting in bottles on the table in front of you. They describe the colours… Then they stop.
Slowly, it dawns on you. They’ve never opened the bottles. Poured a glass. Sniffed the aromas. Put the glass to their lips, sipped, or tasted.
Your host talks a good game about the wine, but hasn’t experienced it.
Intellectualising emotions is a lot like this.
You can talk in dry, rational terms about the events. You have plenty of thoughts about what happened. You have thoughts about your feelings. You have thoughts about the thoughts about the feelings.
But your feelings themselves stay unknown. You don’t uncork your bottle. Protected by your defence mechanisms (don’t worry, we all do this to some extent or other), they stay untouched. Unexperienced. Unfelt.
Stuck behind your metaphorical cork, your emotions don’t do what they’re supposed to.
Emotions are supposed to arise, deliver their message to you (I like it, I don’t like it, and variations on a theme of these), pass through, and fade away.
What happens for many of us instead, is that emotions arise, we interrupt their passage and shove them away somewhere. We bottle them up inside ourselves. We project them onto other people. But we don’t feel them.
Somewhere in our childhood, usually, we figure out that emotions aren’t welcome. So we store them away, unprocessed.
Gifted kids are particularly susceptible to this: the intellect is so strong that right from the start, emotional development lags behind.
Even if your emotional development is ‘age appropriate’ it’s not on a par with your intellectual capabilities. You can think away your emotions far more quickly than you can feel and process them away.
You learn fast, you think quickly – and sometimes you come to the wrong conclusion too quickly but don’t recalibrate because you’re 4 years old and don’t realise that recalibrating is either an option or necessary – and the adults around you don’t pick up on your faulty logic either.
Add to this the difficulties of being gifted in a by-definition majority non-gifted world, and you have a recipe for too many emotional experiences that are too big and scary, and too little support in processing your emotions – or learning how to do it for yourself.
So you feel something, you quickly apply your thinking, and the emotion ‘goes away’ *cough cough* You might become so good at this that you consistently underreact to events – most of the time.
Unfortunately, you’re building up a wine cellar full of fermenting bottles of unprocessed emotions.
When certain other events happen, as they do, you not only have your immediate emotions to deal with, but your unprocessed emotions from the cellar come out to play. You over-react. Sometimes spectacularly.
Oscillating between under- and over-reacting, you feel unstable. You find ways to soothe your instability – the usual kinds of distractions or addictions. You feel bad about your instabilities, use of distraction or addictions, and add those self-judging feelings to your cellar too…
Every time you push your feelings away by intellectualising them, you’re creating more issues for future you to resolve.
Luckily for you, you now understand what you’ve been doing, and how that’s come about – and you can probably already start to see the way forward to doing it differently: stop stocking the cellar.
But how do you stop intellectualising emotions?
How to stop intellectualising emotions
Experience can be defined and described in many ways. Here’s the one I’m going to use for this:
Experience = sense impressions + thoughts
Sense impressions: taste, felt sense, smell, colour, sound
Thoughts: labels, stories, beliefs, ideas, concepts, in words, images, however you ‘think’
The feelings part is the sense impression. Any thoughts, labels stories: those are thoughts. Separate the two clearly and distinctly.
Notice what’s a feeling and what’s a story about the feeling.
Let’s take an example: I feel anxious
Anxious is the overall label for a bundle of sense impressions – the thought.
The sense impressions are sweaty, chills, heart pounding, wanting to move away
When you stay in thoughts and ignore the body sensations, you’re intellectualising emotions.
When you focus on the bodily sensations (and give them just enough of a label to keep your thoughts happy), you’re feeling. You might find these maps of emotions and typical bodily sensations useful.
First, train your mind to know the difference between sense impressions and thoughts.
Sounds simple, right? It is and it isn’t. When you’re used to thinking lots, thinking less feels weird.
Your mind needs something to do when it’s used to being busy (and thinking it’s in charge). Give it these two investigations to chew on:
- What’s the bare minimum you can think about your feelings, while still feeling them?
- What helps you feel your feelings more?
Once you start moving the needle over towards feeling more, your habit of intellectualising emotions will shift, allowing you to clear out the cellar and have more emotional stability – less under- and over-reacting, and more present-moment experiences of how you are, here and now.
1. Do nothing
Always an option. Though now you’re at the bottom of this article, your mind already has new ideas in it. These will have an effect, whether consciously or in the subterranean passageways of your body-mind. You’ll probably find things happening a little differently anyway 😉
Take the tools I’ve shared here, and run with it to stop intellectualising your emotions
Sign up for my Grounding Course to get better at body awareness.
Go nerd out about emotions and embodied awareness. Apply your brilliant brain to understanding your body, your feelings, yourself.
3. Do It With Someone
One of my gifts is intuitively picking up on other people’s feelings. It might sound weird, but in consultations, I feel my clients’ repressed and suppressed feelings – whether we’re in the same room or on opposite sides of the world.
I hear what you’re saying – and what you’re not saying. I sense your unacknowledged feelings and guide you to those parts of yourself.
In short, I bypass your strong intellect and help you feel your feelings, through one of the most direct methods available: my sensitivity to your emotions. I help you get out of intellectualising your emotions, and heal them.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.
Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, giftedness group programmes, speaking and bespoke support for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.
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