Monday, October 28, 2013

Feelings' Locale

"Feelings' Locale" is not a reference to the newest Weight Watcher's strategy - it's merely the title to this post which wonders, sort of, where our feelings are located.

Where do your feelings reside?  In your head?  Perhaps in your gut, your heart, your left kneecap, or under your pillow?  In light of some of the common language we use to describe our emotional experience, some of the above suggestions aren't really so outlandish...

Let's first establish some working definitions.  To assist you in your gracious attempt to decipher my musings, when I use the word "feeling" throughout this little piece, I'll be referring to an emotional state.

So what's an emotional state?  An emotional state is California (kidding).  An emotional state is a complex, natural, and instinctive reaction to being alive and, more importantly, sentient.  When we're "sentient," we can see, hear, smell, taste, and, remarkably, process these experiences in the form of thoughts and ideas. These thoughts and ideas, or "cognitions," seem to have a very different quality than the respective feelings, or emotional states, that we invariably experience in response.

So what's the big deal about the "location" of our feelings - We're getting there... My wondering has to do with a growing concern in my life for what it means to be in healthy and meaningful relationships. As pack animals, we're never at our best alone, so being "connected" to others seems like a pretty important way to thrive.  The most effective way to cultivate these "connections" seems to be through communicating honestly and openly, thus establishing trust.  We did this instinctively as kids when we agreed to take turns sharing private and/or embarrassing information about ourselves with our closest confidants.

Sharing Secrets

These "connections" seem to develop best when we take turns risking our safety by disclosing our genuine emotional states to each other.  "I'll share something if you share something."  There's no way to avoid getting hurt when taking these risks, as we humans are so reliably unreliable.  Still, getting bruised now and then sure beats living alone under a bridge (some hermits will disagree, but remember how even Shrek "came around?").

So, how do we genuinely disclose our emotional states to those we risk being close to so we don't have to live alone under bridges?  We share our feelings...  On a good day, I think we say how we feel like this:

"I'm angry, sad, and afraid.  What about you?"

Was that sooooooo hard?  Apparently it is, because so few seem to speak as such these days...We have developed some of the strangest language for trying to communicate our feelings to our trusted compadres. The more pop psychology touts the value of expressing our emotions openly and honestly, the more cockamamie our language has become to accomplish the respective task.  Why are we so afraid to be emotionally intimate, as evidenced by the indirect and ineffective ways we speak?  Perhaps our former attempts, particularly as children,  resulted in enough pain and rejection to discourage future forays into healthy and meaningful verbal exchanges...

Well, those of us who have been willing enough to give it a try have come up with some pretty funny ways to express ourselves.  The following are some examples of how many of us tend to articulate our feelings to others...  So, let the fun begin...from most goofy and indirect, to most clear and honest - enjoy...

Precipitating Event: You don't like how your neighbor treated you.
When asked "how do you feel about that," the following are some of your possible responses:

1.  "I feel like it's Miller time... Let's order pizza."

Analysis:  "Miller time" isn't a feeling.

2.  "I feel like my neighbor is a total jerk, and he should beg for my forgiveness."

Analysis:  I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone say "I feel" followed by a thought...

3.  "When I think about how my neighbor acted, there's some stuff that comes up for me."

Analysis:  Sounds like you're about to vomit your lunch...

4.  "I feel pretty worthless, and there's some anger there too."

Analysis:  Your thoughts of your own worthlessness are not feelings - they're cognitive beliefs.  But wait!  You used an actual feeling word used the word "anger," though the anger is simply "there."  What does that mean?  Perhaps, as I suggested in the second paragraph, you have located some anger under your pillow...or perhaps under the dining room table?

5.  "I'm noticing some anger, and there's some sadness going on as well."

Analysis:  Two feelings at the same time!  Big progress...You're getting warmer.  Still, you're "noticing" the anger as if it were somewhere outside of yourself, and "some" sadness is "going on" somewhere else - perhaps behind the rosebush...

6.  "My neighbor triggers some old fear, pain, and loneliness issues."

Analysis:  Ooh...You used the word "trigger..." You must have been to therapy!  This is possibly the beginning of some very sophisticated psychobabble for you.  Now you are aware of three co-existing emotional states, and, all kidding aside, this is more typical of how we really react to life.  The more mindful and "awake" we are, the more we will be aware of the many simultaneous feelings we are experiencing "deep down..."  Still, however, you haven't yet "located" or taken real responsibility for your emotional experience - it is still being expressed as though it were outside of yourself.

7.  "I'm feeling anger, pain, sadness, and fear."

Analysis:  Finally - you share how you feel.  Congratulations to you, and, yet, you can still take it one step further...

8.  "I'm angry, hurt, and afraid."

Analysis:  You've arrived!  In this final example, you are your emotional state, and you express yourself as such.  I've learned that this is the most powerful, direct, and meaningful way to be emotionally intimate with another.  There's always time for thoughts, stories, explanations, and solutions later, and these often distract us from the simple truth of how we truly feel.  Want to improve your relationship with someone you trust and value?  Tell 'em how you feel and leave out the rest for a change - the rest gets old, and, aside from your mom, most aren't interested anyway...


David Lader

October 26, 2013

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