What are Feelings
Feelings just are. Like the weather. Feelings come and Feelings go. Some feelings are pleasant. Some feelings are neutral. Other feelings are awful. BUT Feelings don’t stay the same. And as human beings we all experience a wide variety of feelings including anxiety, anger, sadness, overwhelm, depression, joy, gratitude, calm, peace and so many more.
We try so hard to grasp on to the feelings we like and do everything we can to avoid the feelings we want to avoid. This is the problem. Not feelings.
Sounds simple, but if that were the case, why do most of us struggle with our feelings so much? I believe there are two reasons here. The first is because of what I call Fear of Feelings. The second is because of our Feeling Rules.
In case you are wondering, a feeling can be an emotion, a physical sensation or a combination of both either in response to a specific situation OR without any obvious link.
Fear of Feelings
We often believe that if we express a feeling it says something about us – that we are weak, can’t cope, are bad etc. Most people are not taught to understand their feelings. Like I said before Feelings are just a natural part of being human.
What rules were you taught growing up about feelings? This may be at home or at school. In some groups the message is, no feelings are allowed at all. Keep them to yourself. In other families / groups, the message is, you are allowed to feel happy but all other feelings are off limits.
The rule could be the opposite, that it is arrogant to feel happy and that any good feelings should be suppressed. It could also be that only sadness is allowed but not anger, or only sadness but directed at members outside of the group. With all of the implicit rules around feelings, it is no wonder that we struggle with them.
Take a moment and consider this: What feelings were allowed growing up? What feelings weren’t? Were feelings allowed to be expressed towards member of your family or your group at school? If so, which feelings? If not, what were the messages for people who broke the rules?
Separating My Feelings from Your Feelings
What are my feelings and what are your feelings? Feelings often create conflict. The truth is that we are the only ones that know what our feelings feel like, we are the only ones who experience our lives from the inside out. As such, we are the only ones who are responsible for our feelings. No one else. And we are not in any way responsible for holding another person’s feelings either.
When we do this we can stop minimizing our feelings with regard to others (‘It’s okay, don’t worry about it, I don’t mind’) Or Maximize the importance of others feelings (I am so sorry I hurt you – it is all my fault). We only have to experience and manage our own feelings. This is plenty. You will know you are doing this because it will be easier. There is clarity in only managing one’s own emotions (and thoughts and behaviours for that matter too – but that’s for another post).
One Last Thought – CBT can help!
You can think of feelings as something neutral. Like a mobile phone case. If I have a 4.7 inch mobile phone and you have a 6.1 inch mobile phone we need different cases. Our needs are just different. There is no right or wrong. Just what is right for you and what is right for me.
If you tell me that I need the same size case for my phone as you do for yours (just because it is right for you) it doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for me. So if you tried in this instance to tell me this, I am likely to say, without much emotion, that isn’t the right case for my phone. In the same way, my emotions are mine and your emotions are yours.
That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong. It just is. Like the weather. Like our feelings. I can promise you this – if you get good at feeling your feelings – you will have much less struggle in life. ‘Just Feel It’ is a great motto and shortcut to becoming mentally fit in no time at all.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) are great approaches which can help us to get good at feeling all of our feelings in a way that is helpful for us.