Where have all the feelings gone? Emotions or rational logic?
Posted Jul 13 2013 5:00am
Good feelings, bad feelings, too many or too few feelings, which is it?
Feelings, sometimes called emotions, are one of the major things that send people to therapy. Learning appropriate feelings skills as a part of recovery regardless of what you are recovering from.
One way to define a goal of therapy is having a happy life. I have liked that definition from the first time I heard it. Some people are in so much pain that having a happy life is beyond their expectations; they might define their goal as having less pain. Reducing pain is, in my opinion one way of describing “Happying up” your life.
Recovering people are often uncomfortable with the whole idea of having a happy life. They have spent a good part of their life chasing happiness by using drugs, alcohol or sex in an effort to make them happy. Society tends to equate a good time or being happy with doing drugs or reaching for something outside yourself to make you happy.
The idea that there is something out there that can make you happy is a great deceiver. It comes as a shock to some of us that you can be happy and have fun without reaching for those outside objects.
True happiness comes from inside. Setting things right with yourself and then the rest of the world can fit in its proper place.
Excessive of negative emotions, anger, sadness, anxiety and so forth, are the major cause of people who come for treatment. They often define their problem as too many feelings. They say that they are “too emotional.” By two emotional they appear to mean they are flooded by negative unpleasant emotions.
There are also those who come to the counseling room and report that they are just numb. They have lost the ability to feel anything. Sometimes they self-injure, cut or mutilate themselves in an effort to feel again.
The great irony of using pain to feel again is that often the cause of numbness has been intense unbearable pain. The emotional part of the body has shut down the feeling systems to protect these folks from an overload of negative emotions.
To move from an excess of negative emotions or numbness to a place where you can feel happy positive feelings requires several things.
You need to get past the numbness by recognizing that you are having feelings. You need to allow yourself to experience emotions. For someone engulfed in pain and negative emotions this can be overwhelming. We call learning to sit with negative emotions and not be swept away by them “distress tolerance.” Sometimes it is ok to feel bad, just for now. If you can hang on, those bad feelings will subside.
If you want a happier more positive life you also need to be able to recognize the positive emotions when you have them. Some people were taught that it was bad to have feelings. Turns out that avoiding emotions and trying to run you on rational logical principles only is not the solution.
Logic and rational thinking is not always correct. So just going by rules and regulations may not be the answer either.
In CBT therapy we spend a lot of time looking at irrational or faulty beliefs. In other forms of therapy the emphasis is on talking through all your feelings and having someone who can really understand what you are going through. Turns out that depending on the situation both approaches can work and the same person may need to do work both on their feelings and their thinking.
There is also a connection between intuition and using feelings to help you make good decisions. There is also a connection between the various senses and the way in which we all experience our emotions.
In keeping with the theme of this blog, recovery from substance abuse and mental illness and generally having a happy life, we will spend some extra time exploring feelings, the senses and the role of logic and intuition and having a happy recovered life.
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 .