We hear a lot today about the benefits of “getting in touch with our feelings”. Being aware of and in tune with how we feel is seen as healthy – it’s much better to be sensitive to our feelings than to bottle them up, ignore them or become controlled by them.
This raises some interesting questions for me. What’s so special about these feelings and emotions? Why is feeling, say, anger or sadness or joy seen as more “truthful” or authentic than a thought, idea or action?
Often, we know that we are feeling a particular way, but we are not sure why. The idea of “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” is a good example of this. You’ve started the day feeling annoyed, but there’s nothing you can put your finger on that explains who you feel quite so hacked off. Maybe you take it out on the cat or the bus driver, but it’s not really them who has annoyed you. It’s as if the idea or the event that caused the feeling has got lost somewhere along the line.
In this way, feelings can be deceptive. I might think I resent my boss, when in fact I resent my father; or I might feel worked up about something that happened yesterday, but what is really riling me is some long-forgotten slight that happened 20 years ago. The feeling has become separated from the idea or the occasion that caused it, and so that feeling has attached itself onto something or somebody else.
This happens all the time in dreams: isn’t the reason that dreams are often so bizarre that the images we “see” and the emotions we feel in the dream are so at odds with each other?
But it happens when we are awake too. We feel something deeply, but we feel it out of context, and that makes us confused. It may even make us doubt or distrust the feeling we have. After all, what can I learn from my feelings if I can’t work out what caused them?
And yet, despite their unreliable nature, it is only by talking about how we feel that we start to learn something. I was going to write “by talking about our feelings…,” but perhaps “talking around our feelings” would be better. By talking with somebody else, allowing ourselves the time and space to go round in circles, we may discover (or re-discover) something which has up to now been hidden. It may be painful, but it may also provide us with some relief, even a feeling of freedom.