How to feel when you can’t feel

June 18, 2024

Do you find it hard to connect with your emotions or feel numb when asked about your feelings? Learn six practical steps to bridge the gap between thinking and feeling.

How to feel when you can’t feel

By Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx)

💡 Want something immediately actionable? Download my free Notion template worksheet and follow along with it as you read this write-up!


In tech, I work with a lot of people who consider themselves “logically minded” people. What they usually mean by that is some combination of the below:

  • They make decisions with their head instead of their heart
  • touchy-feely language doesn’t resonate with them
  • the concept of “going deep into the body” doesn’t make much sense
  • getting in touch with physical or gut-like emotions feels inauthentic, uncomfortable, or fake
  • when asked, “How does X thought make you feel?”, they say something like, “I don’t feel anything. I guess…numb?”

A lot of self-introspection and conscious language usually involves getting in touch with the sensitive, emotional side of us. To date, there hasn’t been a lot written for people who don’t resonate with this kind of language.

If this is you — if you’re more the “thinking” kind of person rather than the “feeling” kind — there isn’t anything wrong with you.

That being said, if you’re interested in figuring out how to feel more often, here’s an exercise you can do to help you feel things more.

How to feel, step by step

1- Go back to the memories where it felt safe to feel big emotions. Write them down.

Maybe you’re quiet and stoic now, but perhaps you were a loud, rambunctious child.

Or, maybe you’ve always been naturally quiet and soft-spoken, but there were certain people or events where it felt 100% safe to be animated and filled with emotions.

Big emotions don't always mean extroverted or loud — though, those certainly count. Introverts have big emotions, too!

Big emotions simply means you were allowed to feel exactly what came up without worrying about how it made other people feel. You didn’t prevent yourself from feeling.

👉 Write down a few examples where you felt these big emotions. The examples can involve people, places, or events. You don’t have to write full sentences either - bullet points will do. Write down who and/or where, and how the big emotions were felt (such as verbally or physically).

Some examples of when you may have felt really good.

2- With these memories, write how they made you physically feel.

Once you have a list like the above, ask yourself: 👉 How did those events, people, or places make you physically feel in your body?

And if you don’t know, that’s okay. You can make-believe or pretend: how might those emotions physically feel in your body, if you were to put words to it?

Finally, if this is still difficult, pretend you’re an author: you’re writing about a character in a story you are telling. What language might you use to help your reader feel the emotions your character is feeling?

You might have already answered some of this in the first part by describing physical sensations- that’s fine. Just repeat them again.

The physical sensations for all of the previous examples.

You now have a log of some examples where you felt fully allowed to feel emotions.

This is a huge deal — because if you felt big emotions at some point, you’re able to feel them again. And if you made up the physical sensations while writing out your descriptions, it’s still a huge deal — because you’re now putting potential physical sensations to emotional states. This is the first step to feeling.

You’re ready for the next step.

3- Now, revisit a time where it wasn’t okay to feel big emotions.

Now, it’s time to 👉 write out a list of examples where your big emotions or feelings were shut down, dismissed, or otherwise proven undesirable or even dangerous.

Examples of times you may have suppressed emotions.

As you were going through the first two steps, you probably had a realization. It might have been something like, “Wow, I can think of more times where it wasn’t OK to feel big emotions than when it was.” That’s normal, and you’re not alone.

4- Create Cause-Effect Loops

Now that you have a list of instances where your big emotions were shut down, dismissed, or dangerous, 👉 you can start writing Cause-Effect Loops.

Simply put, Cause-Effect Loops are where you felt a big emotion, someone around you made you feel like that big emotion was undesired, and you internalized some belief about big emotions as a result.

I use this pattern to think about Cause-Effect Loops:

[guardian/parent/influential person in my life] behaved this way in response to my big emotions. → This led me to suppressing my big feelings, because this was the best chance for me to not rock the boat.

Pay attention to where you were praised, or where you were ridiculed or reprimanded. These are good hints for why you may have practiced suppression.

Based on the examples I gave above, here are some sample Cause-Effect Loops, notated by the arrows.

Internalized beliefs that may have come from repressing emotions.

A side note:

In case this step is difficult for you, here are some very common examples I’ve seen on potentially internalized thoughts. Please feel free to take for yourself what resonates.

  • If you’re a man, society says it's a weakness if a boy cries or has big emotions. Rather than deal with emotions, boys are taught to suppress and fight it. Obviously, this isn’t only for boys, but it’s especially prevalent in patriarchal societies that don’t allow men to express feelings in a healthy way outside of anger.
  • If you grew up with a person that taught you crying was weakness, and crying was bad, you might have learned to suppress even further, afraid of being ridiculed further.
  • If you grew up with a person who didn’t express emotions properly (e.g.: a parent breaking things, suppressing feelings, or otherwise sharing emotions violently) and that made you feel unsafe.
  • If you grew up with a person that had so many big emotions themselves, you were taught to minimize your own emotions to make room for theirs.
  • If you grew up with a person (especially a parent or guardian) that didn’t make you feel heard and understood, you may have learned to never bring up your feelings, because there was no point in expressing how you felt.
  • If you grew up with a person that weaponized your feelings against you.
  • If you were a hyperactive kid, and adults around you constantly said, “Chill out! You’re bouncing off the walls.” Or, “Where did you learn to ask so many questions?” Or, “You’re a clever kid, but all that energy is going to get you into trouble.”
  • If you were quiet, maybe you were told, “Wow, what a quiet, cooperative child! You’re so easy to take care of.” Or, “[your name] is so soft-spoken. They are so agreeable. What a good kid.”

5- Examine what beliefs you internalized about big feelings.

Now that you have a loop written on each example of what you went through and how that caused you to behave, see what subconscious messages you were taught.

👉 For every Cause-Effect Loop, write down Internalized Self-Preservation beliefs.

Many of the people I work with on re-feeling feelings have a hard time on this step, because they feel like they’re extrapolating from the truth too much. “Regina, I feel like I’m making a lot of assumptions here. How can we know for sure that this is really what happened?”

There is literally no way for us to prove whether this Cause-Effect Loop is factually correct or not — but the nice thing is, that’s not the point. We’re merely getting curious about what might be true if the Cause-Effect Loop is true.

You can try rephrasing this step by saying, “What are some beliefs I might have internalized based on the responses to my big feelings back then?” rather than, “What are some beliefs I definitely internalized based on the responses to my big feelings back then?”

I find that my less-feely clients are a lot more receptive to this exercise when it’s forming a hypothesis, rather than declaring with absolute certainty that there is a direct causal effect.

Here are some examples of what you may have internalized:

  • Big feelings are a nuisance. They bother everyone around me, and they’re also just really unpleasant for me to feel myself.
  • Big feelings make me weak. Being weak makes me a target, or the butt of everyone’s jokes.
  • Big feelings get me in trouble. I’m seen as a problematic class clown or whiny temper-tantrum baby when I show big feelings.
  • Big feelings end up not mattering, because they get ignored in the end, anyway. Better to just let them go.
  • Big feelings get me hurt. If I share my feelings with people, they get dismissed, ignored, or make people feel uncomfortable. Either way, this hurts and makes me less willing to share.
  • Big feelings send me to time out. If I don’t know how to properly self-regulate, or even if I do, the adults around me don’t want me to express them because it bothers them. So they sent me to my room to experience a time out. I don’t like going to time out, so I stop feeling my feelings.

There is no right or wrong answer here — internalized thoughts are normal. It’s our self-preservation kicking in, and that was helpful to our survival — at least, for a while.

6- Finally, challenge your internalized thoughts by practicing The Work.

Your self-preservation thoughts from Step 5 were necessary for you to feel in control as a child. However, you are no longer a child. You are a fully grown adult. You are safe. You are healthy. You are able to take care of yourself.

Your final step is to challenge each thought.

👉 With each internalized thought, ask yourself, “Is this true? Can I really know this is true? What’s an opposite thought that feels more true? How would my life be without this thought?”

These steps are from Byron Katie’s The Work, which I think is a good starting ground for cognitive reprogramming. While I don’t apply The Work to literally every thought in my life, I do find it useful to ask at least the first two questions (“Is this true? Can I know if this is really true?”) because it’s a conscious challenge to the notion that everything we think is true.

Just because your brain makes you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.

You’re well on your way to feeling emotions more readily if you practice these steps.

💡 Want more help? I’ve created a template that you can download to go through these steps on your own. Download it here.

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Regina Gerbeaux

Who’s Regina Gerbeaux?

Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx) is the executive coach to some of the fastest scaling startups in the world. She is also a founder currently interested in the food delivery and logistics space.

Regina was the first person trained by Matt Mochary (executive coach to the CEOs of Coinbase, Brex, and many more) in the Mochary Method Curriculum.

Her tactical templates and operational write-ups have been referenced and used by fast-scaling companies, including BioRender, Tembo, dYdX, and many more.

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