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Learning to feel

Posted Feb 03 2013 5:00am

What am I feeling?

Feeling Emotions

Feeling Emotions

Feelings are strange creatures. We are walking along minding our own business and there out of nowhere comes this thing, this sensation and like an attack of diarrhea we have an episode of feeling.

So before we can even really begin our exploration of feelings we need to establish a habit of paying attention to those times we are having feelings. The expert effect tells us that if you study something you begin to see more of it. If you have ever gone shopping for a truck, suddenly you will see trucks everywhere you go. Same thing with feelings. Look for them and they are everywhere.

There are those people who just don’t feel anything most of the time. This often comes from having been through a serious tram or having been abused. These people describe their predominant feeling state as “numb.” They may even self-injure or take extra risks in an effort to feel like those they think have feelings. This numbing out appears to be related to dissociation. Even those who are frequently numb can benefit from a careful search for feelings.

So turns out that for most of us feelings are all around us every day but if we are not used to looking for them we don’t see the until one of them trips us up.

Mindfulness can be a big help here. Get in the habit of sitting for a few minutes and just observing what is going on with you. You should at this point be working on becoming the world’s expert on you and learning to identify those feeling inside you will help with this.

Some people find that when they try to practice mindfulness or meditation they are overwhelmed with sad or negative feelings. If you have this issue you may need help from a “feelings guide.”  If feelings are overwhelming a good counselor or therapist can help. In a later post we will need to talk more about this issue of experiencing intense pain when you try to practice meditation.

The word “Feelings” comes from words that describe the sense of touch. So we feel things with our skin and nerves. The term has become more generally a word to describe all emotional experiences. This makes sense as one definition for emotions are “strong feeling” so the emphasis in working with and experiencing feelings should be on what your body sensations are rather than what you thoughts about that feeling are.

We do find that our thoughts or beliefs are powerful filters that can alter our perceptions of events and affect our feelings.

So a good place to start in looking for feelings is with sensations in our body. That professor who kept asking me about feelings, I talked about him in a previous post; he kept asking us “where in the body is that feeling.”   

We use a lot of physical descriptions to help us interpret emotions. People are “a pain in the neck” or we tell someone “you make me sick to my stomach.” This alerts us that if we are feeling a pain in the neck or sick to our stomach we may need to look for a feeling hiding there rather than a physical ailment or injury.

Way too often we humans confuse emotions with physical problems. There is good reason for that, emotions are really sensations that occur in our nervous system. The problem is not with the feeling but with our inability to make use of the information these feelings are providing.

The first step in this effort to find, recognize and tame feelings is simply to be aware that yes, often we are having feelings whether we can name them or not.

Remember the moment during the most recent presidential inauguration when President Obama stopped to take in the crowd on the capital mall? He was pausing to let that moment soak into his mind so that he could hold on to it for the rest of his life.

So often we race past those pleasant feelings and don’t allow time to recognize them. The result is that we are left with a life where we remember the negative emotions clearly but the happy ones are lost in the fog.  

Take time to stop and recognize the feelings in your life. The good ones hold on tight to them. The negative emotions learn the lessons they are trying to teach you and then learn to reduce your suffering. You may need to feel the pain but you do not have to stay stuck in suffering.

Over the next few days make a conscious effort to feel whatever it is that you are feeling and consider what it is that emotion is trying to teach you. 

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com

Any thoughts about feelings or emotions? 

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