Emotions are often called “feelings” because you actually feel (sense/experience) the emotion in the body. There is a physiological change that occurs in your body as a direct result of your thoughts that causes these body sensations. So feelings are the body’s response to thoughts. I will be using the terms interchangeably.
Before we explore this further, let’s first have a look at how emotions get misidentified. This is important to sort through this because when you are journaling or making changes in your Life Experience Chain, you can properly identify the links ~ message, belief, thought, feeling. If you are misidentifying a thought as a feeling, you’re going to get stuck.
- Thoughts can get misidentified as feelings. The way we use the English language is one of the causes for this mix-up. People, especially females, often say “I feel” when talking about a thought. Example “I feel stupid” instead of “I think I am stupid” or “that was a stupid thing to do.” Another example is “I feel it’s hopeless” instead of “I think it’s hopeless” or “it seems hopeless.”
- Behaviour can be misidentified as feelings. You might look at someone who is red-faced, scowling, and banging doors and say “She certainly is feeling aggressive today”, whereas the feeling is anger, the behaviour is aggressive. Another example is “I feel timid” when the feeling is insecurity and the behaviour is timid.
- Physical symptoms are described as feelings and can be misidentified as emotions. Because we use the same word “feel” it is a common mistake. Example “I feel hung-over.” Instead of “I am hung-over”. Another example is “I feel depressed” meaning sad versus the biochemical condition of depression.
- Feelings can be misidentified as to their nature. Example, anger might be misidentified as sadness. This may be a result of certain emotions not being acceptable in the family or were labelled as being bad/sinful. Perhaps certain emotions were never shown so the children never were exposed to what it looked or sounded like.
- Feelings can be misidentified as to their intensity. Again, it depends on what the family’s rules and messages were about certain emotions. Example, it might be acceptable to feel “annoyed” but not acceptable to feel “angry.” Thus, emotions are minimized or repressed into more “acceptable” ones.
Purpose of Feelings
Why do we have feelings or emotions? As you read earlier in this blog, your feeling are reactions or responses to your thoughts causing a physiological change in your body. So, your emotions serve several purposes.
- Your awareness is heightened. Without the physiological changes, you might very well coast along on “automatic pilot”. Remember that often we are not consciously aware of what we are thinking. So feelings increase your ability to know yourself and thus help you to heal and grow.
- Feelings protect you. Can you imagine if you felt no fear as a car was speeding toward you? The physiological change causes a surge of adrenaline to flow through your body that helps in moving you quickly out of the way.
- Feelings make you human. No other species have the ability to think and feel as humans do. Feelings help you to connect with others and to enjoy yourself.
Facts and Fallacies
As you were growing up, you were directly taught (rules) about emotions, maybe not in specific words but by how you saw people deal with their feelings and the feelings of others (messages). Some of what you learned may not have been true facts but distortions, faulty information or misperceptions. Here are some common fallacies about feelings coupled with facts. See which ones you have believed.
Fallacy: feelings just happen out of the blue.
Fact: Feelings are a response to a thought.
Fallacy: there are good feelings and bad feelings.
Fact: feelings are neither good nor bad; they are the body’s natural reaction.
Fallacy: I have no control over my feelings.
Fact: my feelings do not control me. I can stay with the feeling (and thought) or let it go.
Fallacy: I am angry.
Fact: I am not my feelings. I am a person who has/experiences feelings. “I feel angry”.
Fallacy: People make me feel (angry, afraid, etc)
Fact: people cannot make me feel. My feelings are a result of my thoughts and perceptions.
Fallacy: I should not show my feelings. Others won’t (like/respect) me.
Fact: I have a right to show my feelings. I am not responsible for other people’s reactions (thoughts/feelings/behaviour)
Are there other things you believe about your emotions? Can you identify any childhood rules and messages that have formed your beliefs about feelings? Here are a couple examples to get you started.
Belief about feeling: “You shouldn’t show your feelings.”
Childhood rule: “Keep a stiff upper lip.”
Childhood message: “People won’t respect you if you are emotional” or “Your feelings aren’t important.”
Belief about feeling: “Anyone who is afraid is weak.”
Childhood rule: “Stop whining and be a man/grow up.”
Childhood message: “Only sissies are afraid.” or “Fear is a bad thing to feel”
Next month we will look at what the four primary feelings are and begin to talk about them one by one.
As a child, you were not responsible for understanding there didn’t have to be painful and intolerable feelings that arose out of the illogical and self defeating thoughts you were accustomed to. You do have a choice as an adult about how you continue to handle your feelings. You have the right to change them into helpful and manageable feelings that validate and empower you.
Choose today to start making changes in how you handle feelings. Change will occur as you continue to:
- Recognize how you respond to feelings.
- Replace them with new responses
- Start to act on these new responses
painful, intolerable FEELINGS helpful, manageable
illogical, self-defeating THOUGHTS logical, self-enhancing
irrational, damaging BELIEFS rational, healing
unhealthy, dishonouring healthy, trustworthy
given to me as a CHILD RULES AND MESSAGES created by me as an ADULT
Judith S. Carscadden