“Feeling” Versus “Talking about Feeling”

Situation: Two people see a homeless man on the street being aggressed by police officers.

Person A expresses how awful she felt in an outraged tone, and then quickly elaborates with opinions about injustice. There are details about who is right, who is wrong, how the event unfolded, how it was resolved, what should be done. You feel outraged as well and agree with her opinions.

Person B expresses how sad and powerless she felt when witnessing the scene. She recalls the event silently. She shares few details, but you can see the sadness in her eyes. You feel propelled to comfort her with a hug.

 

The way these two people react to the same situation illustrates the difference between taking about feelings, versus actually feeling. Both are valuable in different ways, but let us look at how such self-expressions are useful, and less useful when it comes to processing emotions in the name of emotional well-being.

While there is value to both cognitive insight (“talking about feeling”) and experiential emoting (“feeling”), I know both professionally and personally, that for most people, deep lasting change cannot occur without a healthy dose of the latter. I emphasize this because most people in this society are more comfortable with talking about emotion from a cognitive place, than they are with sitting with the raw emotion as it occurs. If this is you, you are not alone in being more comfortable “in your head” than “in your heart”, often without even realizing it!

In daily life, there are many practical incentives for allowing our thoughts to run the show: we are expected to make fast decisions, equilibrating emotions, values, beliefs and environmental factors to decide what reaction is most appropriate. Raw emotions are not always “allowed” according to the mind, the context, or the messages of people around you. This tendency can fragment our holistic experience, contributing to significant emotional distress. I cannot stress enough just how important it is to develop a practice that allows you to directly communicate with your feelings, learning to quiet the thoughts down enough to recognize what is going on in your body and your heart. This does not mean that thoughts are “bad” and emotions are “good”– it means that we need to become aware of our tendencies toward letting one part trump or bully or silence another part. This helps us gain access to all parts of ourselves, which helps us adapt to and cope with life’s challenges most effectively.

Effective emotional processing is key to reducing many common unpleasant symptoms like anxiety and depression, and the way we can begin or continue a journey of increased well being starts with becoming aware of the relationships between our thoughts and our emotions. An easy way to start this investigative process is by asking yourself: Am I talking/thinking about feeling? Or am I allowing myself to actually feel my emotions? I challenge you to dabble in the typically less familiar territory of letting yourself purely feel, without changing, resolving, moralizing, rationalizing or criticizing, and see what arises within.

Much love to all you beautiful readers!