One day about 35 years after my fifteenth birthday while sitting in a psychiatrists office I realized that I had been acting out my entire life. This accomplishment both amused and horrified me.

About this time I had determined that to go on living, I needed to find out who I was. This was a rather tall order since I had been abandoned by myself and my family at a very young age, so I had to break the task down to more manageable waypoints.

The first job was to learn how to feel. To feel anything other than the pain coming from the hole at the core of me was an unlearned skill. I had taught myself very expertly how not to feel. If you want to feel you have to learn how to relax first.

Anxiety often accompanies depression. To begin to open up the brain pathways for feelings, you need to find a fairly safe place to reduce the anxiety and focus on the now. Stop the brain whirring and use some relaxation techniques to consciously train yourself to quiet your mind. This can take months or even years but once you can proudly say “Yes, I'm relaxed,” you may then begin to carefully and quietly listen for some feelings. I've found that feelings are formless and flighty, hard to identify and hard to pin down. They're more like a cat than a dog. They'll stay away unless you are prepared to pay them due regard. Relax, be patient, a feeling may come to you. It may surprise you but try not to push it away without becoming familiar enough with it to identify it's breed, so you won't be so surprised next time. See if you can recognize what in the world elicited or "caused" the feeling. Try to remember what that was, so you can be sensitive to it next time.

It is pointless to label feelings as either good or bad. There are no good feelings nor bad feelings because a feeling is just a message from another part of your brain such as your memory or your animal brain or your subconscious or your dream state.

The most obvious and basic feeling is pain. It conveys the message "Help!". Another obvious feeling is fear. It conveys the message "Warning." These feelings are clearly hardwired survival tools carried with us from our earliest evolutionary state to keep us alive. All the more complex and differentiated feelings similarly have a message and a purpose.

Your fake self will intercept and try to rationalize or explain away any feelings, as it has been created to do. At this point take notice of your body and how it feels. Your muscles, your stomach, your heart and your head are repositories of these blocked or stored feelings. In the process of relaxing you will notice points of pain or stress in various body parts. Imagine that you are releasing the stress by concentrating on letting the tension out of that particular muscle. Don't be surprised if the muscle suddenly spasms. This quick reflex jerk releases the tension and happens automatically to some people as they are falling asleep. Different people store their tension in different parts of their body. You may find that once you have learned to relax, that the body begins to release this tension automatically without you trying or even being aware of it happening.

With each involuntary relaxation you should notice a thought or a feeling that is released at the same time. What is it? Take notice of these thought bubbles as they float to the surface of your consciousness. By intercepting them consciously as they surface you can become aware of them before your fake self has a chance to banish them or rationalize them away.

It is very important at this moment not to judge or explain or worry about the feelings that arise. Let them rise to the surface spontaneously and disappear into the air like bubbles in a glass of Champaign. It is more important to notice that you are feeling something than to understand why. This is the technique known as mindfulness that originated in Buddhist teaching and is practiced in meditation and yoga today.

Occasionally you may be inspired by new revelations. Your mind may achieve clarity as never before. This is good, as it is a sign that you are moving forward out of the fog of depression toward clarity.

Massage and meditation are both good relaxation techniques that will help in this process. It may be good for you to set aside a regular time each day when you will be undisturbed for 20 minutes so that you can more quickly and easily enter this relaxed state and allow your feelings to surface. Some people may find that they can achieve this empty state of mind when they are doing some simple repetitive physical activity such as walking or jogging. Do what works for you, but do not make the mistake of choosing an activity that is one you do when you want to escape from the world because that is acting out. You cannot achieve conscious feeling and mindfulness when you are acting out because this is what you do to avoid pain and pain is your primary emotion. If you are doing something to block it, you will also be blocking all your other feelings. Some people shed tears or shudder the first time they achieve deep relaxation and conscious feeling. Pain is to be expected, even encouraged, because releasing it will feel good afterward. You will feel lighter, literally relieved!

Do not expect to be able to stay open to your feelings like this all the time. Doing so would be disruptive to your life and those around you who depend on you. You have created a fake person and have built a life around that person so others have built up a set of expectations based on your past behavior. If you destroy these assumptions all at once, you will need to have a plan ready so that you can support yourself if these people were to abandon you. You may need to practice being the real you in limited safe contexts with people you can trust.

Many people in reevaluating themselves may find that they have no safe place and nobody they can really trust with their true feelings. This may come as a shock and a disappointment. I would suggest that such people should engage a mental health professional to accompany them on their journey to clear the path ahead and provide a safe place to do the emotional work required.

An important part of psychotherapy is the setting up of a regular schedule of sessions. Even if you don't engage a therapist you should be disciplined about continuing the work required to reawaken the real you, to achieve authenticity. A schedule, a project or a series of tasks is a good way to maintain the discipline required to do this work. It is work because it is a hard road to travel.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Gillespie is the creator and author of the Aurora's Dreams website and blog, as well as the soon to be released title "Aurora's Dreams: Seven Steps to a New Life".
An adopted Australian by birth and a global traveller, Mark has lived and worked in various countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, The Middle East & North America. He has committed to his own personal growth through meditation, diet and over ten years of psychotherapy.