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Pay Attention to Your Feelings

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

Don’t ignore your feelings. They are keys to self-discovery.

by

Feelings are information and listening to them is essential for personal and spiritual growth. Every feeling has a unique meaning attached to it. Feelings educate us. They are the royal road to self-discovery and self-development. To ignore, dismiss, or avoid what we feel is like choosing not to open an email that’s marked “Urgent – open immediately!” Our feelings teach us what is good and what is not good about ourselves and our lives. They are our quality control monitors.

Uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, anxiety, shame, loneliness, anger, and jealousy serve the same function as physical pain. Just like physical pain informs us that something is wrong and needs to be attended to, so too emotional pain. Ignoring a stomach pain, might result in having a ruptured appendix. Sadness that is ignored and not explored could result in depression. As a psychotherapist, I have found that all too often at the core of people’s problems is some degree of disconnect from their feelings and an inability to process their feelings effectively.

Listening to our feelings doesn’t mean following them impulsively or blindly. To learn from our feelings, we need to process them. There are three steps to processing our feelings:

  1. Identify what I am feeling by naming the feeling, for example, sad, mad, glad, fear, shame etc.
  2. Clarify why I am experiencing this particular feeling, at this particular moment and in this particular context.
  3. Decide what I want to do about this feeling now that I understand the meaning of it.

I realize something is bothering about something my wife said to me. I identify that I’m feeling sad. The reason I’m feeling sad is that within the context of the situation, this sadness means that she doesn’t understand something important about who I am. I feel distant from her. I decide that I need to have a conversation about how I feel and see if I can help her understand me better so we can reconnect.

I am waiting to meet my wife for lunch. She’s late. I am not only upset, I’m boiling with rage. Upon reflection, I recognize that my wife’s lateness is triggering painful memories of my father who consistently missed important events in my life. I realize that my anger has little to do with my wife being late. When she arrives, she apologizes profusely. I greet her with a hug and a kiss.

I open a professional journal in my office and am surprised to see that a colleague’s article has been published I immediately experience a sinking feeling in my stomach. I am feeling jealous and sad. I read the article and console myself by thinking, “It wasn’t such a great article.” I go on with my day and fail to explore the meaning of my jealousy and sadness. Although I have relieved my discomfort, I have missed a huge opportunity for self-discovery and growth.

Distrusting Emotions

Understandably, there are some who distrust human emotions. After all, giving into ones feelings blindly or impulsively “doing what feels good” can certainly lead to disastrous results. From this perspective, it is understandable why some believe it is best to try to get rid of bad feelings while opting to rely on reason and logic.

By understanding the meaning of our pain, we can learn to tolerate and ultimately integrate it.

Nobody wants to be in pain. Patients come in with an expectation that my job is to help them get rid of their pain. Instead, I tell them my job is to help them understand the meaning of their pain, which will help them to tolerate and ultimately integrate it.

The desire for comfort is king in our culture. The drug industry is a multi-billion dollar business because so many people want to get rid of their uncomfortable feelings. (This is not to say, that there are certainly good and appropriate uses for such medications.) When we try to get rid of them we lose precious opportunities for self-discovery and growth. Rather than taking an adversarial stance vis-a-vis our feelings, we need to take a friendly and curious stance. We shouldn’t be afraid of our feelings.

Dating & Feelings

A final illustration of the importance of listening to our feelings is in the realm of making good decisions. In my work with singles, I tell them that in dating it’s very important to be aware of your feelings when choosing the right person to marry. How does this person make me feel? Is there something that consistently doesn’t feel right? What is my greatest fear if I marry this person? Do I respect this person? Do I trust this person?

Many well-intended friends, parents, and counselors inadvertently end up advising people not to listen to or trust their feelings. “Don’t worry about that, I had the same feelings when I was dating and it was nothing.” This type of advice is essentially telling the person not to listen to and process their feelings and can lead to disastrous results. When a person doesn’t listen to his or her feelings, he or she runs a risk of not seeing those infamous red flags waving in front of their faces. It also denies the person the opportunity to introspect and become fully aware of the issues involved in this relationship.

So don’t run away from your feelings. Listen to them, process them, and use them as an opportunity for self-discovery.

Published: August 3, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 13

(7) Jack N Soll, MA, MFT, August 22, 2013 3:10 PM

Magnificently said! Todah rabah!

This is one of THE best & most succinct statements of my belief and philosophy about the importance of paying attention to our feelings, as valuable information and data and as essential to be conscious of for our optimal functioning. AND, it includes very clear, defined steps on what to do with that data once received. Again, todah rabah! Jack

(6) Kate, August 18, 2013 4:01 PM

Trusting in the face of neglect

My fiancé and I make an adorable couple. He manages us, and I keep us fun. When we're together, it just makes sense. However, he's away on business about 75% of the time. It's worth noting that he's not an overly emotional person and is terrible about responding to texts and often times his calls can be brief and a bit hurried...in between point a and b in his 70-80 hr work week. When he's home, he's very much involved and attentive and present, but when he's away, he's very much away and his attention is on his work...or so I'm hoping. There's never been any evidence that he's ever cheated, I'm just saying that all this time apart and the lack of attention makes me feel rather neglected at times and I get moments where I'm just like "what the hell is he up to?" I've shared my feelings and concerns, but he feels like he's doing all he can and that he is just working really hard. Thoughts or remedies?

(5) Helen Borenstein, August 7, 2013 12:50 PM

To: When Dating Is Beyond Stressful

Dump this guy ASAP. Dating should not be stressful. It should be a happy time, when you are dating someone you are completely comfortable with, which is clearly not the case here. If this is what he is like during dating, what would he be like married? He sounds like a control freak, someone with OCD, and some personality disorder. It might hurt him for a bit if you break it off now, but it will hurt YOU for a lot longer if you don't. Similarly, the longer you continue with him, the harder it will be. Don't stay with someone because you feel sorry for, or think you can change him, you can't, just get out! At this point, he is taking your dating as a sign that you want to continue. But there are too many red flags, don't ignore them!!

(4) Ann Canada, August 5, 2013 2:38 PM

Where is HaShem in our feelings?

It was only when I went to be alone with HaShem, 'imagining' myself to be safe in His inner courtyard, that I felt it was safe to feel my feelings. My feelings--the whole gamut of them--are between me and G-d, and they won't wreck me or fool me. They are just feelings. From that place of safety I have found true, lasting healing. To feel our feelings is to not rebuke G-d, but to grow closer to Him.

(3) ffb bt, August 5, 2013 2:27 PM

feelings can fool you. distort reality/truth.

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