I read something recently written by John Townsend and promised myself that I’d quote it some day, in a context that felt appropriate.
I regret to say I can’t give credit to the person who made the quote available, as I can’t recall where I read it, only that I copied and saved it. It was Townsend’s comment on FEELINGS, where he wrote: “Feelings are not just window dressings in life. They are vital to understanding the nature of your problem so that you are more informed, and they are good for your well-being. What is more, your emotions are a tool that will help you solve your problem. So embrace your feelings; pay attention to them and learn from them. You will be the better for it!”
While what he says seems to be ordinary common sense, I think that for most of us feelings can’t be embraced or learned from unless or until they are properly identified.
Specifically, it is nearly impossible to change any part of our behavior – whether it be that of our role at work, at home, or in relationships across the board – unless we are first able to identify and define accurately what we are feeling.
For instance, if we believe that we are angry, when in fact it is sadness that is at the core, our belief will inevitably lead to actions which are more likely to sabotage whatever it is that we perceive to be our goal.
Likewise, if we feel depressed and tell ourselves that we are really hopeful, the actions that we take then, as well, will not be appropriate and will not help us to make the necessary change(s)needed to allow us to move forward, to leave our proverbial “baggage” behind.
I am devoting this week’s blog to the topic of FEELINGS because as recently as this past week I realized how unnecessarily painful it is for anyone who has suffered a significant loss, feeling of abandonment, abuse or trauma and was not offered help at the time the event occurred to process what happened and to understand the feelings that were evoked. Without identifying and understanding what happened,those who wish to survive bury whatever feelings were experienced and with such a burial or denial - call it what you will - the initial injury remains unresolved. Such feelings, in fact, which are not addressed or understood remain as shadows, dark, fearsome and ever present.
On the other hand, making peace with a devastating experience means receiving the help necessary to identify and understand the feelings associated with the experience. Unless or until that is accomplished, it is rare to find any one who is so turned off to be able to develop into a fully mature adult with the capacity to express a wide range of emotions.
More often, without an examination of such emotions, it is common to suffer from re-traumatization whenever situations resemble (consciously or unconsciously) the original emotions experienced – sometimes when the person was too young even to have words to describe what happened - despite its having caused everlasting scars.
To use an analogy of food, it’s as though the ingredients we might, as adults, toss into a salad bowl are just that – tossed. Why? Because, during our most formative years, they were never distinguished from other ingredients. A bib lettuce looked too similar to an iceberg and since no time had been taken to explore the difference between one vegetable and another, the final result is that of confusion and an inability to appreciate an extraordinary salad from an ordinary one, and sometimes even a good one from a bad.
Mary Kuros who often writes about the importance of releasing emotions in order to maintain balance and health claims that “people who ignore, dismiss, repress or just ventilate their emotions,” are setting themselves up for failure.
She concludes that there is a major difference between talking about feelings and feeling them. Those who merely talk, but don’t feel, intellectualize and analyze. Intellectualizing and analyzing are two defenses which they developed early and have remained attached to in fear of feeling deeply, feeling the pain involved in feeling their emotions whether they stem from a sense of failure, shame, betrayal, loss – whatever the emotion may be.
What many people don’t realize (and suffer from greatly because they don’t) is that much of life is about what we feel and not what we think. Being connected to our emotional life is, according to Kuros and many of us in the field of mental health, “essential to living a life with high energy and a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction."
If you have never stopped to confront your own internal world which may, indeed, be chaotic and filled with pain, then you will forever remain fooled into believing that others are either unaffected by your mask of “strength” or unaware of the fact that who you think you are is not who the world sees or experiences.
Although most of us are willing to invest money and time in everything from real estate to sports, attending gala events or gambling at casinos, I suggest that many would be far better served by investing time in taking a course in understanding the self – a course often referred to as “psychotherapy.”
There is nothing more rewarding than knowing why you behave as you do and understanding why others experience you in ways that made you believe they were always wrong and you were right.
Sadly, ignorance about the SELF is as dangerous as is ignorance about any subject. Conversely, self-knowledge is the door to freedom of expression, opening life to actions taken that will allow you to meet someone who should be your very best friend ... and that friend is YOU!
On that note, I wish you a well-explored journey which brings you to places and feelings that can only enrich your life and offer you gifts you never imagined possible.
*Please visit my website at http://www.applemanshapiro.com to learn more about the work I do as an oral historian, to take advantage of a free psychotherapy consultation, to order a copy of my memoir (with no fee for shipping charges) and to find out how to book me as a speaker in various venues where I advocate for mental health.