Navigating the Inner Seas: Learning to Understand and Manage Our Internal Experiences

Feb 28, 2024

By Dr Wes Turner – Clinical Psychologist / Clinic Director

Have you ever noticed how sometimes what is going on inside your mind and heart can feel just as real as anything that happens outside of you? Understanding our inner world of thoughts, feelings, and urges is vital if we are to make loving connections with ourselves and others.

But how do we get better at recognizing what we are feeling, tolerating those feelings, and choosing effective ways to respond? And why do we need to be aware of the difference between what we are feeling on the inside and what is actually happening in the external world around us?

Attuning and Understanding Each Other

At the core of our ability to understand ourselves and others are two fundamental processes: interpersonal attunement and mentalisation. Interpersonal attunement refers to the synchronised alignment of our innermost experiences with those around us, from the rhythm of our heartbeats to the ebb and flow of our conversations. This synchronization is not just metaphorical; it is underpinned by shared neural activities that mirror each other, revealing a profound connection between our physical actions and our understanding of our own and others’ mental states.

Mentalisation, on the other hand, refers to our capacity to make educated guesses about the thoughts and feelings behind the actions of ourselves and others. It is the bridge that allows us to interpret the subtle cues of emotion and intention, enabling us to navigate a complex and uncertain social world with empathy and insight.

Internal Experiences vs. External Reality

Understanding our internal experiences and how they often differ from external reality is pivotal to psychological health. This differentiation allows us to recognize that our feelings and thoughts, while intensely real to us, may not always match up with the objective world outside us. For instance, feeling anger does not equate to being harmful, just as experiencing fear does not mean we are in immediate danger. This distinction is vital, as it prevents us from being overwhelmed by our internal states and guides our responses to the world in a more balanced and measured way.

The Challenge of Recognition, Tolerance, and Response

For many of us, it can be challenging to manage our internal experiences. We may struggle to recognize our feelings, thoughts, and urges, instead explaining them away as physical complaints or as belonging to those around us. We may recognize our emotions but find it hard to tolerate them, leading us to persecute or injure ourselves or others. Others may tolerate their feelings but struggle to respond to them constructively, resulting in painful over-suppression rather than adaptive internal or external expression.

Our early relationships and experiences play a crucial role in shaping how we manage our internal experiences. The relationships we had with our parents or other important people in our lives can teach us how to talk to ourselves and handle our emotions. In many cases, the ways of coping that helped us when we were younger are simply not effective now that we are adults, leaving us to need to learn new strategies. This can be even harder for neurodivergent individuals (e.g., autism, ADHD, etc.) or those who have experienced trauma, who often face additional hurdles in processing and expressing their emotions.

Learning to Feel and Connect

Thankfully, there are ways to get better at managing our feelings. This can involve learning to notice our emotions, letting ourselves feel them without getting overwhelmed, and then deciding how to react in a helpful way. This process can help us make better decisions and feel more in control. Learning to adaptively feel and connect can not only reduce overwhelm and stress, but can also foster a sense of certainty and safeness within oneself.

Embracing Change

It is important to know that our goal is not to get rid of the ways we have learned to handle feelings, but to become more flexible in how we use them. Being able to adapt and choose different ways of coping when we are faced with new situations can make us more resilient and help us face challenges with more confidence.

Taking the Next Steps Together

Understanding and managing our inner world of thoughts and feelings is a journey that can lead to better self-awareness, stronger relationships, and a more fulfilling life. By learning to recognize, tolerate, and constructively respond to our emotions, we can navigate life’s ups and downs with greater ease.

If you are interested in exploring this journey further, we are here to help. At Minds & Hearts, we offer a supportive space where you can learn more about yourself and develop new ways of handling your feelings. Whether you are looking to improve your emotional well-being, build stronger relationships, or just find more peace in your day-to-day life, reach out to us.

If you would like to take this next step together, contact us at