By David Joel Miller.
Fear of feelings?
You would think that feelings were on the banned substance list. So many people are avoiding them. Failure to feel what we feel is at the root of a lot of mental health problems. Still, people go to great lengths to not feel those feelings.
We hear lots of advice about ways to avoid feelings, think logically, pull yourself together don’t let yourself feel that. The forces of logic have won the day and henceforth feelings are banned.
But we know in our gut that sometimes feelings are telling us the truth when our head wants to mislead us.
Some people grew up in homes where their feelings were invalidated. You said you were sad and you were told you are not sad, you don’t even know what sad is. If you feel that way you are being weak or selfish or some other terrible thing.
Numbing out the feelings.
So you avoided feelings, any and all feelings, and eventually, you became numb, chronically unhappy or unable to feel any real joy. In your flight from feelings, you may have left a lot of love, friendship, and compassion behind. You may have resorted to drugs or alcohol or other addictions to avoid feeling what you were feeling.
Feelings have been blackballed, put on the most wanted list and hunted down and exterminated whenever possible. We have become so very afraid that someone will get angry, depressed or anxious and then something bad will happen. So we tell them to pull themselves together, forget that feeling and think logically.
Logical thinking, the scientific method has resulted in a lot of technological advances. We have more stuff than ever before in the history of the world. Stuff exists now that science fiction writers fantasized about just a few short years ago.
What we haven’t accomplished is any real reduction in pain or unhappiness. We have more pain killing drugs but no less pain. We have more antidepressants but we have more depression than ever. We teach people to be more rational and there are crimes of passion on every corner.
In this process of avoiding being carried away with excesses of feelings, we have lost the ability to use feelings for the intended purpose.
Your feelings brain.
When we talk about using our brains, what is left out of the equation is just how much of our nervous system lies outside our heads. All those nerve cells, the ones surrounding your stomach and the ones in your neck, they are trying to tell you things also.
Those expressions, someone is a pain in the neck, or that makes me sick to my stomach, those expressions are full of truth. Those bodily sensations are conveying information to the rest of our beings that we just may need to know.
Those other “thoughts” the ones in our feeling systems ought to get more attention. That skill we call intuition may just be those emotional memories of things in the past that are useful for actions in the present.
By avoiding our feelings for so long we have lost the ability to regulate those emotions. When we do feel something, like sadness, we can easily become overwhelmed.
When feelings are strangers we come to fear their presence. So many of us will do anything, drink drug, numb out to avoid feeling what it is we are feeling. We become afraid that feelings are enemies out to destroy us rather than old friends here to tell us something.
One huge step in recovery is to learn that we can feel feelings, happiness or sadness, excitement or anxiety without becoming overwhelmed and carried away. Having a feeling is not the same thing as being taken over by that feeling. Joy does not have to lead to an excessive celebration and sadness or anxiety need not lead to another relapse or flight.
One group of therapists talks about the need to learn distress tolerance. I can feel bad some of the time and that is OK. I will not cease to exist because I feel sad or anxious. It is possible to feel unpleasant feelings, ask what that feeling has to tell us and then, like so many other thoughts, let that feeling move on.
Not every happy feeling calls for action, a celebration of excess that might lead to a relapse into drug use, overspending or inappropriate sexual activities.
It is possible to feel feelings and let them serve and inform us rather than being controlled by what we feel.
How do you feel about your feelings?
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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 check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s 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. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
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