top of page
Search

Intellectualizing Emotions vs. Feeling Them

Hello my beautiful souls!


Welcome back to the Modern Manifestation blog. Feel free to listen in to today's topic in the podcast.


Happy new year! As we roll into the second month of 2024, check out my goal-setting workshop for a little motivation to keep things progressing. This workshop is available online for $30 to help you gain clarity and perspective in the year to come! Priced for everyone <3

 

Recently, an Instagram post of mine blew up with over 2M views. For whatever reason, the topic I discussed really struck a chord with a lot of people. So, I thought I’d bring the subject to my blog (since y’all are my favorite group of people anyway)!

 

The topic covered in my reel was the tendency to over-intellectualize your emotions instead of feeling them. Not intellectualizing, which can be a good thing, but OVER-intellectualizing.

 

My therapist once told me that, like most things, we experience emotions on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, you have people who feel emotions very easily and very intensely; both their own and the emotions of others. For these people, emotions can become crippling because they experience them so strongly. These are the kind of people who could benefit from a little more intellectualizing than feeling. These people are not the target audience for today's discussion.


Then there those of us at the other end of the spectrum (where I used to exist)—people who avoid their emotions all together and have a tendency to OVER-intellectualize how they’re feeling. Or more importantly, why they’re feeling a certain way, instead of connecting with their internal states. These individuals tend to disassociate and overemphasize the need to understand. To logically process emotions from a place of reason.

 

As a representative of this latter group, I was disembodied for a long time, struggling to connect with my body and my emotions. I experienced numbness for years, so I can’t really speak to the experiences of those who feel their emotions very intensely because I’ve never shared this experience (nor am I a therapist / mental health professional).


However, I can speak to my experience as someone who over-intellectualizes and struggles to feel, and the tools that have helped me dismantle this issue.


So, if you are someone that experiences all of your emotions very deeply, this post isn’t for you directly. But, it might help you better understand someone close to you who might be a little bit more like me since bad habits tend to run in our families. <3


Why is Over-intellectualizing Bad for Manifesting?

 

As someone who has a tendency to over-intellectualize, I used to walk into therapy able describe my toxic issues, label them, discuss the mental state of my parents (and their parents), and why my siblings and I filled certain roles.... I could analyze my past and provide reasons why I am the way that I am, but I wouldn’t tap into the emotional trauma of any of it. I wanted to analyze and understand—from a distance.


I didn’t want to revisit the emotions; the emotions I never really visited in the first place.


However, we create from our identities and our authenticity. If our identity is still tied up in old stories then we aren’t living authentically. When we're not living authentically, we create scenarios where we revisit old traumas until they are acknowledged.


I didn’t start to manifest things I wanted more consistently until I began to unpack my emotional baggage and actually deal with it.... Not just re-packing my baggage into a smaller and smaller box, putting it higher and higher on the shelf.

 

If any of this resonates and you’re struggling to manifest the things you want, you may have some of these old stories and emotions stored in your body from over-analyzing your emotional trauma.


In order to create, we must release these emotions; This energy in motion.


What is over-intellectualizing? 


Over-intellectualizing occurs when we focus on analyzing our emotions from a distance, at the expense of experiencing them. In other words, we don’t allow ourselves to fully embody the physical and emotional aspects of an experience. We choose to disassociate using analysis. We want to look at our emotions as if we're on the outside looking in. We even stick to logic and the reason behind our emotions with such vigor, that we shut down anyone that asks us to feel instead of analyze.


Over-intellectualizing our emotions, when done to an extreme, is another form of emotional suppression. Our brains and our bodies allow us the ability to bypass our emotions, especially when we’re feeling stressed, because it isn’t helpful to experience these things if we’re being chased by a lion. However, we weren’t meant to avoid our emotions indefinitely.


Don't get me wrong, intellectualizing can be a useful tool in therapy and in life. It can be a used to gain perspective in a situation, or to contemplate someone else's motivations. So to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you avoid exploring your trauma or analyzing the sources behind them. There’s a time and a place for intellectualizing. In fact, I think we all need a healthy dose of both feeling our emotions AND intellectualizing our emotions. Logic can be great. It’s one of my favorite tools. And like anything else, it can also limit our growth when it’s overdone.


Intellectualizing can be useful to sidestep our stress, trauma, or negative experiences so that we can survive... But we eventually need to deal with it. Like my therapist always reminds me, "feeling is healing" and intellectualizing can become a crutch to avoid our discomfort, causing symptoms like emotional numbness, physical pain, G.I. issues, anxiety, depression, etc.


Feeling is uncomfortable. I get it. It sucks sometimes. Even so, we need to find the balance of both feeling and analyzing.

 

Unfortunately for me (or maybe fortunately?), analyzing was always the easy part. I thought I would excel at "this whole therapy thing" based on analysis alone. However, when my therapist started to stop and ask me, "How does ______ make you feel?", I would shut down and get angry. I was like, "This isn’t why I’m here. I didn’t want to experience those silly little emotions. I just want to talk about them." I just wanted to analyze them. To keep them at arm's length. I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t enough. How dare she suggest I feel these illogical feelings?! According to my recent Instagram comments, I'm not alone in my visceral reactions when asked to feel...


At the time, I thought I was so strong because "I didn't need to tap into emotions or vulnerability". But it turns out, not feeling things is a weakness (not a strength). We over-intellectualize our emotions when we're uncomfortable because emotions can feel threatening (just ask our nervous system). In a very real way, the potential of our emotions can be overwhelming and I didn't think I was resilient enough to be able to withstand the avalanche coming my way (at the time).

 

So instead, I spent decades emotional suppressing my negative experiences, intolerant of emotional sensations. And, this habit bit me in the ass.


A common misconception about over-intellectualizing is that people like me don’t experience emotions like anger, sadness, disappointment, or grief. We do. The difference is that I never wanted to stay with my negative emotions long enough to process them. So I would suppress them until later.


When I didn’t feel my emotions in real time (at the appropriate times), I would take them out on some undeserving person later (at an inappropriate time). This person never deserved it; It was always my response to the dam of my emotions bursting and washing over me in unpredictable moments.

 

For many years, I leaned into analyzation so much, that I became numb. I had a limited range of emotions. I was always "fine", but was I really? There were brief moments where I might feel grief, rage, or even joy, but it was quickly stuffed down (as if my body was announcing there was danger alert). I'd taught my body to turn down the volume on my emotions by avoiding them. I wanted to over-intellectualize and not feel, so my body obliged me and my window of emotional expression got smaller. I was more numb, more consistently.

 

You may think this sounds great if you feel emotions intensely, but when we turn down the dial on your emotions... we turn them all down.... even joy, happiness, elation, love, etc.


I’ll never forget the app that helped me come to this realization. One day I was signing into a mood tracking app, and in the very beginning of each visit, it would always ask you to rate your mood. After probably a year of using this app, I noticed that I almost always selected the middle option. Just "Okay. Fine. Can’t complain. All good. No worries".

 

I decided to go back through my log of all the emotions that I had tracked over the past year. I never once selected the worst moods they offered, but I also never once selected the happiest mood they offered. 99.9% of my self-reports were "okay". This got me thinking.


As I thought about my life, I always had a general sense of being disconnected. I never got as excited as others. I also didn’t get angry at the appropriate times either. If I had an emotional reaction, sometimes it wouldn't show up until much later (like a delayed response).


I remember being young in business and having an issue that came up with an opposing broker. Myself and another partner were working on a deal together and when we found out they had gone around us for something, my partner was visibly fuming, absolutely furious! I remember him looking over at me, expecting me to be caught up in the rage just as much as he was. But there I was... blinking, staring, still "okay" and seemingly unphased. He looked at me like I clearly didn’t understand the situation... but in reality I just couldn’t drum up the feelings he was experiencing in that moment. My body responded the way it always had: avoid, suppress, freeze.


We talk about the stress responses a lot in this blog: fight, flight, fawn, and freeze. Well, I had a habit of freezing as a response to stress. Turns out, I had frozen a lot throughout my life. This was why I was always "fine".

 

Now, you might be thinking, "Oh, well, you were non-reactive. That’s the goal, right? To become less reactive in life?" And yes, that is ideal; however, that’s not what I was doing. I wasn’t less reactive internally. My nervous system wasn't regulated. I wasn’t meditating at the time and I definitely wasn’t working on calming my nervous system regularly (if at all). During this time of my life, I wasn't non-reactive... I was just frozen in a reactive state.


The funny thing about being numb is that you CAN experience things like rage, anger, disappointment, but it always happens at inappropriate time (and its explosive, or at least, it was for me). My freeze state would eventually thaw out and then I would experience rage because someone was driving too slowly or walking too slowly. Or, someone’s cart was in my way at the grocery store. My reactions were misplaced and unpredictable because I didn't know when I was going to thaw out and enter into fight mode. In fact, I wasn't aware of this process at all.

 

This is why it’s important to talk about feeling our emotions because otherwise, we’re a ticking time bomb. Without the ability to process our emotions in a healthy way, we could be numb to the bad emotions AND the good emotions—not living in alignment, not living in authenticity. When we practice feeling into our emotions, it allows us to begin exiting the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn cycle and begin regulating our nervous system.

 

How Can You Tell If You're Over-intellectualizing?


Here are a few personal examples of mine:


  • I would get out of a long-term relationship, and instead of feeling my grief, anger, frustration, and disappointment, I would read all kinds of books about creating better communication in a relationship, signs of narcissism, and books for successful couples. I would avoid the grief and anger associated with the breakup by throwing myself into learning or some other project.

  • In order to unpack my childhood, I would start listening to a ton of podcast episodes about emotionally immature parents and their impact on children. I would even watch interviews with parents who finally became aware and the closure that provided their kids; however, I would avoid the sadness that the situation had caused me. I wouldn't acknowledge my struggling inner child. I just wanted to learn about the issues, analyze how it would apply to me, and move on.

  • I would listen to all kinds of e-books about time-management and becoming a better business person, but I would avoid my imposter syndrome. I would just keep learning, learning, learning, instead of dealing with the self-worth issues that were keeping me from doing the things I needed to do. I thought I could learn my way out of imposter syndrome and the shame that comes with imperfectionism.

  • I would get in a fight with someone in my family. Instead of feeling my anger and frustration in my body, I walked into therapy ready to analyze. I wanted to talk about my boundaries, our history, their actions, my actions.... then I immediately began to explain their perspective, the upbringing that led them to act this way, and why that triggered something within me. I was so ready to fly over my feelings by riding the magic carpet of analyzation. I was desperate to get to the other side of understanding and forgiveness, but I wouldn't experience the mess in the middle.


I hope one or two of these examples might resonate and help you realize where you may have over-intellectualized in the past! Now you may be wondering... ok that's great, but how do I stop over-intellectualizing my emotions and actually feel them? Great question!


Exercises to Help You Experience Emotions

 

Here are some of the exercises that were recommended to me by my therapist. I have tried all of these out for myself, and trust me, they work!


Become Aware of Your Habit

 

Become aware of you habit to over-intellectualize (which I hope this post will help you do). Find someone who can hold you accountable and will notice you when you’re over-analyzing. As much as I have worked on this over the years, I still have people in my life (like Evan and my therapist) who remind me when I'm over-intellectualizing... It's a process! Once you're beginning to notice the habit more consistently, seek tools that can help you process your emotions in a healthier way. One of the first things I recommend is to find a good therapist (which is kind of like dating). A good therapist is worth their weight in gold, but there are so many bad therapists out there. Try out a few and find one that gels best with you. Give yourself unlimited permission to try 5, 10, 15, 20 until you find the right match. After all, this person will get to know you intimately, so make sure you like and trust them. Therapy has really helped me become a healthier and happier human.


Somatic Exercises

 

Somatic exercises are essentially bodily-focused tools that help you connect your body with your emotions. There are so many great exercises, that I couldn't cover them all if I wanted to. Instead, I recommend that you Google somatic exercises. I guarantee you can find an exercise that resonates with you! Even so, here are a few of my go-tos:


Vocalizing was one of the first somatic exercises I ever did. I started by saying the word "vuuuuuuuu" for an extended period of time. Then, I would imagine sending the vibration of this sound through the center of my body to my root chakra, and back up again. This instantly calms me down and engages my parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve. You could can choose whatever word, sound, or syllable works best for you. Ever say "agh" out loud when you're alone after an uncomfortable memory or experience? That's vocalizing! Many of us are already doing it naturally, so try setting aside time to do it intentionally.

 

Another somatic exercise you can do is breathwork. Breathwork is really, really great for people that are struggling to resolve emotions and move energy within the body. I have had breath work sessions where I start bawling for no particular reason because the breath finally allowed me to release something that I'd held onto. I’ve also felt sudden rage and grief occur in my body during breathwork, so I allow it to happen without judgement. Unsurprisingly, breathwork is recommended for people who suffer with PTSD for these very reasons. For some free resources on breathwork, check out any of Wim Hof’s exercises!

 

The next somatic exercise I love are body scans. That’s when you sit quietly and observe your body, one piece at a time... your toes, your heels, your calves, your knees, your thighs, your quads, your glutes, your hips, etc. This is great for feeling your emotions, where they might be in the body, and for grounding yourself. For more somatic exercises, go online!


As always, consult your medical doctors and team before exploring any new exercises alone.


Meditation

 

I think I mention meditation every time I discuss self-help tools, so I bet you knew this one is coming! This is probably because it works for SO many things....! Simply observing silence is helpful, or you can try grounding meditations or body scans like I mentioned in the somatic section. The Insight Timer app has a lot of free resources for you and there are plenty of guided meditations that are focused on emotional release! You can even find a meditation type based on the emotion you're trying to move. If you read my last post on the benefits of meditation, you already know that any type of meditation is going to help with emotional processing, so jump in!


Journaling

 

This is probably the exercise that’s helped me the most with emotional processing because.... well, it allows me to go crazy with the intellectualizing! I get to analyze in an intentional way, for a bit. The difference is that once I write down my analysis, I work on letting it go without revisiting the analysis later. Once it is all on paper, I don't feel the need to keep ruminating because it's already there, laid out in front of me. Then, I shift my focus to feeling the emotional experience of the situation and write this down also, maybe even drawing the experience.


Journaling is an act of balancing both intellectualizing and feeling. Describing an emotion is one of the best ways you can feel into your body: Where does it sit? Is it in one place or many? Is it attached to any particular muscle or limb? Doesn't have a color? Shape? A physical sensation? A texture? Describe your feelings as if they're objects. You might even draw it if you’re a painter or you’re a sketcher. Get as descriptive as possible. Make sure you feel first, then write. Repeat.


When you're done, see what it's like to close your eyes and sit with that emotion for awhile. Does it change? Shift? Move? Get smaller? Bigger? What happens if you encircle

It in water or golden light? No judgement, just awareness. This is processing. This probably one of the best things things I've done to help my body feel safe while experiencing crappy emotions.


Becoming Mindful & Curious

 

Notice your emotions when they arise and become curious about what they’re trying to tell you (instead of trying to push them away and deal with them later). When you get angry, don't judge the experience. Instead, ask yourself where it came from and what you need as a result. Why is anger showing up? Where is it showing up? And then just sit with the anger for a bit, maybe even talk to it. Give yourself full permission to become curious and see what happens. Remaining mindful and curious will help you remain neutral.


Wrapping It Up


Just because the above tools sound simple, it doesn’t l make them easy. If they were easy, everyone would be doing them all the time.

 

If you're someone who has also struggled with numbness, you can use these tools to re-teach your body to pick up on the subtle cues over time. When I first began somatic work, everything was kind of quiet (practically muted). Many times in my journaling exercises, I would try to describe an emotion and I would just think, "I have no freakin clue.... I just, I don’t know. I’m making shit up because I don’t know". This is normal. You may question whether or not you’re "doing it right" and whether or not you’re "making things up". Go with it anyway. So what if you are making things up? For the record, I don't believe we make these things up... it's always subconscious feedback!


Allow your intuition and your creativity to run with the process anyway. Overtime, these cues will become louder. Keep going even when it doesn’t make sense to you. Or should I say, especially when it doesn’t make sense (because it’s not something you’re used to). Embrace the awkwardness of questioning whether or not you’re "doing all these tools correctly", whether or not you’re over-intellectualizing, and just keep going. Progress over perfection.


Overtime, your body will remember the subtleties of your emotions. You will find balance between feeling your emotions and intellectualizing them, in a healthy way.

 

Thank you for hanging out with me today. I will catch you in the next post!


Follow Bre on: Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest


Podcast

Check out this discussion in podcast form:






For more like this, check out our podcast on iTunes or Spotify! Now live on all major podcasting platforms.


Related Blogs & Podcasts

Comments


  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
bottom of page