In this podcast episode, Sarah Liz King explores the concept of intellectualising emotions and the importance of feeling and acknowledging them instead. She uses the analogy of waves on a beach to illustrate how people often analyse emotions from a distance instead of immersing themselves in the experience. Sarah discusses signs of intellectualising emotions, such as overemphasis on logic and reasoning, and offers five steps to shift away from this habit. She also shares her personal experience and emphasises the benefits of connecting with and expressing emotions for self-awareness and recovery. Ultimately, Sarah encourages listeners to embrace their emotions and cultivate self-compassion.
Sarah Liz King (00:00:04) – Hi everyone, and welcome back to Holistic Health Radio. I’m your host, Sarah Liz King. I’m an exercise physiologist and health coach, empowering you to find your healthy balance with food, fitness and your body Through my 1 to 1 and group coaching programs, both myself and my team help women regain their periods, find food freedom, and have a healthier relationship with exercise, all while gaining body confidence. In today’s episode, we’ll be exploring the fascinating topic of intellectualising emotions. We’ll delve into what it means to intellectualise your feelings, how to recognise if you are actually engaging in this behaviour, the profound impact that it can have on your recovery journey, and most importantly, how to start facing and feeling your emotions authentically. Now to start with emotions, right? They are an integral part of being a human being, and yet many of us find ourselves disconnecting from them, completely resorting to intellectualising or analysing our feelings as a little bit of a defence mechanism. But what does it actually mean to intellectualise our feelings? I’m going to explain it using an analogy because I feel like sometimes that is a really good way to kind of understand these concepts.
Sarah Liz King (00:01:38) – So I want you to imagine that you are standing at the shoreline of a beautiful beach with the ocean kind of stretching out before you. And it’s a beautiful sunny day. And the waves that you see represent your emotions. They’re constantly flowing and changing and coming into the shore at different waves and different sizes. But the waves are your feelings. Now, let’s say as you’re standing on the shoreline, that you have a pair of binoculars which symbolise your tendency to intellectualise your feelings when a wave of emotion approaches, instead of actually immersing yourself in the water, you instinctively reach for your binoculars and begin analysing the wave from a distance. With binoculars, you can examine the waves, height its speed, its shape. You can even study kind of the currents going on in the ocean and predict maybe where the wave will go. You can kind of gain a sense of control and kind of analyse all of these characteristics, however. While you gain kind of a rational understanding of the wave, you tend to miss out on the direct experience and the power and the beauty of being in the wave.
Sarah Liz King (00:03:21) – And you continue to kind of intellectualise each wave that comes your way meticulously, like observing it, analysing its characteristics. So you become an expert in wave analysis, but you’re missing out on the immersive sensory experience of being in the water itself. Meanwhile, the waves continue to kind of crash onto the shore, and each of them kind of carry their own unique energy and message and meaning. But by solely focusing on the analysis, you miss the opportunity to feel things like the coolness of the water on your skin, or the exhilaration of being carried from the ocean to the shoreline. You miss the chance of riding the wave, experiencing, like I said before, things like its power and the joy or even the lessons that it brings. So intellectualising your feelings is like standing on the shore with those set of binoculars, observing and analysing the waves from a distance. It keeps you safe on the land, but you miss out on that transformative and kind of healing power of immersing yourself in the water, in the vastness of the ocean and in that sea of emotions.
Sarah Liz King (00:04:46) – By choosing to kind of put down the binoculars and dive into the waves, you open yourself up to that more authentic and meaningful experience of your emotions. Now, in the analogy, the invitation to kind of embrace the richness and the depth of your emotions, to feel them and engage with them on an experiential level is what we’re really aiming for. Because by doing so, you can discover a greater sense of connection and growth and self-understanding as you navigate through this ever changing sea of emotions in your inner world and with your inner self. Now, within that analogy, you might have had a little bit of a light bulb moment recognising that you may actually be struggling with this type of emotional avoidance and. I think one of the things that can be helpful is understanding some of the signs to look out for, which might give you a clue as to whether or not you are intellectualising your emotions. So. I’m gonna go through some of the signs of intellectualisation that can help someone identify whether they are relying heavily on intellectualising or analysing emotions, which is a form of emotional avoidance.
Sarah Liz King (00:06:13) – So the first one is kind of pretty clear. It’s this over and over emphasis on logic and reasoning. So people who tend to intellectualise emotions tend to heavily rely on logical reasoning and analytical thinking to understand and explain their emotions. A classic example of this might be something like, Oh, like I’m so frustrated with my body. Like I shouldn’t be as hungry as I’ve eaten, like a specific amount of food or calories during the day or the amount of my meal plan like that I’ve been told to. And here you are using logic to deal with, you know, the emotion of frustration. Or maybe it’s anger or disgust instead of actually going like, Oh, it’s really difficult to be in my body when I have a higher level of hunger and these are the emotions that it brings up. You just try and kind of like rationalise it away. A second sign might be a form of detached language. So Intellectualise or people who intellectualise their emotion often use this detached or kind of clinical language. When they’re discussing their emotions, they can describe their feelings kind of even in an abstract manner.
Sarah Liz King (00:07:30) – There’s no like depth or personal connection or kind of like that subjective experience. It always feels at a distance, right? So this often comes into play when we think about rigid food or exercise rules, for example, like I must adhere to this like rigid exercise regimen, like regardless of how my body feels or what my energy levels are like. And another common one is like, I need to like. Kind of strictly monitor my calorie intake and meticulously track every bite I consume. And these are examples of detached kind of language that intellectualise this approach to food and exercise or body image. And they focus on that. I should and I must instead of, Oh, this is how I feel and this is what my body needs as a result. So it’s that focus on the external and on the rigid control and that lack of connection with one’s own physical and emotional needs. We kind of like put it at a distance from ourselves. The third sign that you might be someone that intellectualise your emotions is this lack of emotional expression, right? You might struggle to express or convey your emotions directly.
Sarah Liz King (00:08:49) – If someone asks you how you feel, you might kind of talk about things in a matter of fact way. You might tell someone about the thoughts that you’re having, but you don’t really get into the associated emotions or the affected responses or like the non-verbal things that are going on in your body and some scenarios that kind of show a lack of emotional expression include. Things like, you know, I can objectively list all of the physical health risks associated with disordered eating, but don’t allow myself to really feel the fear or the concern that should accompany those facts. Like I can kind of like say in my mind, like I know being under my body’s ideal weight puts me at a higher risk of certain things, but that it actually doesn’t have the impact in the feeling that should affect me in the way that maybe someone else who didn’t intellectualise their feelings would experience. Another way that this can show up is the thought of like, you know, I follow my meal plan really, really strictly, but I don’t actually acknowledge the anxiety or the discomfort that I experience when deviating from my routine.
Sarah Liz King (00:10:09) – Right? So I might be super comfortable when I’m in control and doing what I’ve been asked, but I kind of like push away the sensations or the feelings of what happens when I don’t follow that rigid set plan. Two more kind of examples that might be, I guess something that you might relate to is also this example of like recognising that rest is really essential for your healing, but also, you know, that sort of like I don’t allow myself to acknowledge the guilt and anxiety that arises when I actually have to take a rest day. Like I just focus on like, Oh, this should be good for me and I should just feel great doing this, but actually not acknowledging that it feels really hard to take those restful moments is a sign that you might be intellectualising your feelings. And the last example is I can kind of list all of the physical symptoms of hypothalamic amenorrhea, but I struggle to kind of express the sadness or the frustration or the guilt that comes with losing my menstrual cycle. So those are all good examples of kind of that lack of emotional expression.
Sarah Liz King (00:11:26) – The fourth sign that you might be someone that is struggling with intellectualising your experiences is minimising these emotional experiences. So rather than fully experiencing and acknowledging your emotions, people who intellectualise their feelings kind of tend to like, downplay or minimise their significance altogether. They might dismiss really intense emotions or they quickly kind of shift the focus to that intellectual analysis, avoiding the emotional depth and experience of being in the feeling. So so this might be like a downplay the emotional toll of my eating disorder or hypothalamic amenorrhea by comparing myself to others who definitely have it worse than I do and make me feel like I don’t have the right to feel things as deeply because other people have it worse. Or I tell myself that a lack of a menstrual cycle is just like a minor inconvenience, even though deep down I feel really frustrated and anxious about its implications for my long term health. Or another one is like, I feel so guilty. For skipping meals. But I quickly rationalise it by telling myself that it’s just a small setback and it’s not worth getting emotional about.
Sarah Liz King (00:12:44) – And those are all examples of kind of minimising that emotional experience. Another sign that you might be doing this is kind of focus on those cognitive strategies. So the jump towards problem solving instantaneously is a big sign that you might be heavily relying on intellectualising your emotions. So problem solving or information seeking to deal with emotional challenges is something that people who intellectualise their feelings often do. And this is understandable. It’s in an attempt to kind of manage that emotional distress through cognitive understanding rather than directly engaging with the feelings themselves. So that looks like constantly seeking advice and opinions from other people about my own recovery or your own recovery, rather than relying on external input and connecting with my own emotions, I always seek kind of outside advice or I avoid therapy or counselling because I fear it will focus too much on my emotions and not provide enough practical strategies or tools for my recovery. And I find that that’s a big one that I often face with clients. When we worked on the practical side of things for a while, and there’s still a lot of roadblocks.
Sarah Liz King (00:14:06) – It’s that kind of avoidance of wanting to go deeper, which can actually be the bridge towards further recovery that we need to kind of look towards. And another one that can, I guess, give you a clue as to whether you’re focusing on these cognitive strategies too heavily. Is this sort of like if I just gather enough information, right, about what nutrition and exercise I can then control my eating disorder and I can overcome it without addressing any of the underlying emotional triggers? Like it just has to be about the rational problem solving, which we know is probably not the whole story when it comes to recovery. Now there are two more signs that you might be intellectualising your emotions. The first one is disconnection from the physical sensations of your emotions. So for every emotion we experience, there is also a physical sensation that you experience in your body at the same time. And people who intellectualise their feelings have a really hard time recognising or connecting with the physical sensations that accompany emotions. The way that I like to explain this is you often live from the neck up and disconnect with everything from the neck down within your body.
Sarah Liz King (00:15:32) – So you might be more in tune with the cognitive aspects such as the thoughts, but you neglect those kind of bodily sensations, such as changes in your heart rate or muscle tension or breathing. And this might kind of look like having a really hard time identifying the physical signs of hunger or fullness because you’re so disconnected from the body sensations. And that’s why there’s that tendency to rely on external cues or rules instead. It can often be things like tending to ignore or suppress physical symptoms like fatigue or dizziness, kind of dismissing them as insignificant and disregarding them because of their potential connection to your emotional well-being and your need for things like rest or struggling to recognise the bodily sensations that arise when you’re feeling sad or upset, instead opting to focus on those more logical solutions or distractions. And I often remind my clients that feelings aren’t things that need to be fixed. They’re not problems to be solved. They’re experiences that we move through. And it can be really hard if you’re someone that has intellectualised your feelings for so long to learn how to move through your feelings with grace.
Sarah Liz King (00:16:58) – And it is a practice and I’m going to go through some ways that we can start connecting with our feelings in a second. And I just want to touch on the last sign that you might be intellectualising your feelings, which is this kind of limited exploration of personal vulnerabilities. So intellectual rises tend to. Mostly avoid exploring their personal vulnerabilities or their emotional wounds and divert attention away from these emotional wounds by analysing emotions from. An intellectual standpoint. So this prevents kind of that deeper emotional exploration and understanding. It could sound like I have a lot of difficulty being vulnerable and expressing my emotional needs to others, So instead I kind of opt to keep them a bit hidden or suppressed to maintain this sense of perceived control or, you know, downplay the significance of my emotional wounds or make light of them or I use, you know, kind of humour around them to dismiss them as irrelevant, believing that they don’t really have a direct impact on my eating disorder or hypothalamic amenorrhea or even things like minimising the importance of self compassion and self care in recovery, disregarding kind of the emotional nurturing that is truly necessary for us to kind of heal and move on and move forward with our lives.
Sarah Liz King (00:18:36) – Now, I’ve been through a lot of different aspects of signs and symptoms that you might be intellectualising your emotions. And I find this as incredibly common for most of the clients I see. So if you’ve nodded your head along and said yes to several of these scenarios, you are not alone. I think one of my own biggest barriers to recovery was the fact that I was so resistant to feeling my emotions. Not only that, I felt it was unnecessary and irrelevant to my own recovery journey. One of the things I vividly remember when I was doing kind of an intensive outpatient treatment program was how kind of stoic I was in the first few months. I just went in and I was like, I’m just going to like eat the food and I’m going to talk about what is practically a really big barrier or obstacle in my recovery during the check ins. But I had no emotional connection to the experience. And it’s so funny because the therapist, who was my group therapist at the time that I did that intensive outpatient program, is still the therapist I see today, obviously for very different things, but we had a great connection.
Sarah Liz King (00:20:01) – So I’ve kept seeing her over the years. But she joked that I didn’t even crack a smile for the first three months. I was cold. I was detached from the whole experience and it was really stunting my own recovery journey. But slowly, over time, I started to see how important the feeling and the emotion side was. And so I started to open up. I started talking about my grief and the deep sadness that I was experiencing and the fear and the loathing and the anger and everything in between. And I started to see the connection between. How I used my thoughts and eating disorder behaviours to avoid my emotions and. That in doing so, I kind of felt in control and protected and safe. However, it was this like endless and very damaging cycle because it required me to continuously engage in an eating disorder which was ultimately harming my relationships, harming my health, impacting my happiness, and so much more. Connecting back to my emotions and experiencing them authentically, both the difficult ones and also the really joyous ones helped me to see that my eating disorder wasn’t actually functioning to protect me like I thought it was.
Sarah Liz King (00:21:35) – Instead, it was actually preventing me from experiencing the wide range of human emotions that we we get to experience while we’re alive from having kind of that deep. And I guess the biggest thing is like when you’re not experiencing your feelings, it also prevents you from having like a really deep and authentic connection with yourself. And so as I started to feel things, I started to find that I had a better relationship with myself, a better ability to be vulnerable with myself and others. And it helped me to move towards creating a life where I felt more connected to the people who were important to me and just passionate and so happy to be alive. Now, I think the really difficult thing is you’re probably listening going, okay, Like she’s gone through all of these signs and symptoms and I, you know, can relate to a lot of them. And she’s also said how important feeling your feelings is. And sure, I can see some value in that, but like how do I actually start feeling my emotions instead of intellectualising them or avoiding them? So because this podcast is so practical, here are five simple steps to help you get started so that you can shift away from intellectualising your emotions and actually start to feel and live through them authentically.
Sarah Liz King (00:23:03) – And the first one is very simple. It is awareness. So becoming aware of the presence of your emotions is the simplest first step. By developing this kind of awareness and paying attention to the physical sensations, some of the thoughts, some of the behavioural patterns associated, it can kind of indicate the presence of whatever underlying emotion we are experiencing. So acknowledging that emotions are a very natural and valid part of our human experience is the best place to start. So. One example of this is when I ask clients who have been like rigidly and routinely exercising for years to take a rest day, and when we check in the next time when we have our next session, they often tell me like how hard it was. But I always dig deeper. I was like, Well, how did your body feel? Like? What physical sensations came up for you? What urges did you have? What emotions did you feel as a result of kind of the thoughts going on in your head? So that is kind of one of the best places to start is awareness, right? The second.
Sarah Liz King (00:24:21) – I guess tip or step is to allow your emotions to just be instead of problem solving them. And this is what I mentioned before. Your emotions are not problems to be solved. They are signals to be interpreted right. They can provide us with some really great information about what we might need in the moment and how we can take care of ourselves, but we don’t need to fix them. You can give yourself permission to just feel the emotions as they arise rather than pushing away or trying to analyse them immediately. Simply let them be, observe them, accept their presence, and remind yourself that these emotions are valid and they’re part of the healing process and they won’t last forever. The third thing to think about and start practicing is to label and name your emotions, right? And kind of think of this as like a little bit of a game show. Like Name that feeling, right? Begin to label and name the emotions that you’re experiencing because this helps to bring clarity and understanding to your emotional landscape. This can be, you know, really simple descriptors such as like sad or angry or anxious or fearful just to kind of give a name to whatever you are experiencing.
Sarah Liz King (00:25:39) – And I find it’s really helpful when your name and your emotions to name them by saying this is sadness or this is anger or this is anxiety instead of I am sadness, I am anger, I am anxious. You can kind of be like, these are things that happen to me, but they’re not who I am. The next step. Step number four in starting to feel your feelings instead of intellectualising them is to validate your emotions. So this is really about practicing self-compassion and validating all of the emotions that come up for you, reminding yourself that it is completely okay to feel what you’re feeling and that your emotional responses are completely valid. And in those moments, offer yourself some kindness and some understanding, just as you would a friend that you really cared about. So validate instead of minimise your emotions is tip number four. And the very last one. Tip number five is to express your emotions in a really safe way. Find some healthy outlets for expressing your emotions. This might be journaling, talking to a trusted friend or to a therapist or a coach.
Sarah Liz King (00:27:00) – It could also be engaging in creative activities like art music or participating in support groups or group coaching where you get to share your feelings openly and also receive understanding and support from other people going through the exact same experience as you are. So I want to wrap up this episode by emphasising that feelings or feeling our emotions provides us with some really valuable insights into kind of the underlying causes and triggers of our struggles. It allows us to identify and address emotional wounds, past traumas and vulnerabilities that can often be really intertwined with our disordered eating patterns or. Body image concerns. For that reason, and by embracing our emotions, we actually cultivate a greater sense of self awareness, enabling us to navigate our recovery journey with a lot more clarity and intention. And I think one of the best things is feeling our feelings fosters connection, not only connection with others, but with ourselves and also to the world around us. It allows you to create genuine connections and seek support and build a network of understanding of different individuals who can support us on our own recovery journey.
Sarah Liz King (00:28:32) – And also feeling our feelings allows us to build better self-compassion and self care as we learn to nurture ourselves on a very much deeper emotional level. So I guess in the end, the benefits of feeling our feelings far extend beyond the recovery landscape because it becomes a new way of living. You no longer need to avoid your feelings. Instead, you have this opportunity to cultivate awareness and understanding and more meaning around your feelings and just let them be instead of always analysing and thinking and assuming that you need to solve them like a problem. Of course, this is so much easier said than done. So if you are on a recovery journey and you are seeking support, don’t hesitate to reach out and book a discovery call to find out more about how our coaching programs can help. The link is in the show notes for those who are interested, and we offer a variety of both 1 to 1 and small group coaching programs which provide you with so much opportunity to share, connect and get valuable practical tools, both for the behavioural change side of things and more importantly, from the psychological skills aspect which we’re talking about today.
Sarah Liz King (00:29:52) – Building a really healthy relationship with our emotions, which is essential to the recovery journey. So to everyone listening, if you really enjoyed this episode, as always, be sure to leave a five star rating and review wherever you’re listening. It really helps support the podcast, especially if you’re listening on Apple iTunes. Leaving that written review really helps us bump up in the rankings. So if you love this podcast, that is the best way you can support us. If you are watching on YouTube, please be sure to give it a like and subscribe so that you don’t miss out on any future episodes. But until next time, keep looking after yourself and I will be back next week with a fresh new episode you can wrap your ears around.
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