Some people don’t understand what utility feelings can have.
For example, a client of mine, years back, said, “I just wish I were a robot. I don’t want to feel. Feelings don’t help anyone. They just make you feel worse. They just make everything go wrong.”
The devastation behind her words was palpable, while she sat across from me, looking at me blankly, wondering why I would respond so emotionally to such a simple question.
Yet, as simple as a question was, and as deserving as it is of explaining, I was struck by the probable history behind such a question.
Because, when your feelings are met with care, you intuitively come to know that crying when you’re sad means relief, and means caring from others.
You know that your happiness is likely to be met by joy in another person’s eyes, or by you doing more and more of what leads to that feeling — because happiness makes us want to do the happy-making thing again!
You know that your anger, when on-point and communicated clearly, can help you to set a limit, can help others to notice your side, can help you to protest or leave an unfair situation.
Feelings connect us to ourselves and to our deepest wants and needs.
Feelings connect us to others, telegraphing what we can’t always communicate so easily in words.
Feelings can have many flavors and textures, varying levels of intensity and depth, and they help us to know viscerally something about ourselves, our experiences, the world.
Feelings help us to connect.
If your feelings have been responded to with enough consistency, with enough kindness, and enough guidance, you know without even having to think about it that feelings come in waves, and when we express them, they release naturally and they end with relief and renewed perspective.
When your feelings have been met with disdain, ridicule, looks of incredulity, rolled eyes, or taunting laughter, you learn something very very different about your feelings. You turn against your feelings, turning against yourself in the process.
You equate letting people see your feelings with being torn down — and so you bury your feelings, deep deep inside, where you hope no one will see them.
You may not know what you yourself feel anymore. And when this happens, you also may feel adrift, empty, unmotivated. You’ve lost your sense of vitality, and your life force. You may seek ways to “stop being lazy,” and think that feelings are the last thing you need! People who’ve shut off their awareness of their own feelings may feel threatened by the very prospect of therapy that seeks to find the feelings again. “Why bother,” they may say. “Feeling has never led to anything good.” “I just need a few strategies.” “Why aren’t you helping me to just solve my problems?”
But feelings, when worked with carefully in a relationship that feels safe enough, can lead to a tremendous increase in energy and motivation. Far from making you “dramatic,” a careful exploration of feelings in a safe environment makes you more effective, less likely to fly off the handle or find yourself numbed out or enraged when you least expect it. (No one can hold all their feelings in forever, so they do leak, sometimes in ways you might not like or understand.).
Feelings bring you back home to yourself. They bring you to safe connection with others.
“Why feel a feeling?”
Because our feelings, when worked through carefully, tell us the truth. They tell us who we are and what we want, and what we love and what we won’t tolerate.
Feelings free up our love, our vitality, our well-being.
Blocking feelings leads to a sense of emptiness, to a sense of chaos, and to the anguish of unbearable aloneness, to pressure inside, and sometimes to chronic tiredness or pain.
If you’ve tried to block your feelings, it may be time to start getting to know them again. Safely. More tips on that to come…..