I had an interesting discussion last week with a mental health counselor, an educated woman, schooled in traditional psychology, who has spent years “in therapy” attempting to deal with unresolved issues from a painful childhood. She voiced to me a concern that this process of investigating our mental story encourages us to deny our feelings. “When we drop our story, aren’t we just stuffing our feelings?”, she asked. “It seems I'm just intellectualizing my feelings”. She went on to say she had spent years learning to allow her feelings and did not want to go back to her previous “stoic” emotional response to life.
Often therapists and counselors emphasize this “symptom based” approach. Unresolved issues are addressed at the feeling level, failing to penetrate to the underlying story. As a result clients get stuck in a “victim” mentality – “I was irreparably damaged in childhood and the best I can do is to “feel my feelings” (every day from NOW ON)
I, too was conditioned to believe in the value of feelings. I have been a strong advocate for the psychological model that teaches; “It's important to feel your feelings”. I believed that stuffing feelings led to depression and emotional problems.” This was a basic premise in my overall approach to working with others. I still believe that denying feelings is detrimental. I've changed my mind about “stuffed feelings” being the cause of depression and rage, however. I think we must look deeper to the underlying belief behind the feelings in order to find the cause to our negative emotional states.
All feelings are generated by thoughts. This is the preliminary understanding needed if we are to make any real progress. The mental is the place of origin – feelings are a by-product of our mental constructs. Feelings don't just “float free – coming out of nowhere – in our psyches. They are rooted in thought. It's believing these thoughts that produce the low-frequency or vibration that we associate with painful feelings.
No amount of feeling these emotional vibrations will lead to clarity, understanding or peace. Only recognizing and intervening on the belief or “story” that is creating the feeling will work for that. As long as we hold onto the pain-producing story, no matter how much feeling release work we do, we will still be loaded down with these painful feelings. As a matter of fact, we may be simply generating even MORE pain for ourselves through the process of “feeling our feelings”!
Denying (or stuffing) feelings is what we do when we judge ourselves for feeling what we feel. (“I shouldn't feel angry/scared/jealous … “) Negative self-judgment keeps us distracted by the painful feelings it produces and keeps us from going deeper to the mental root cause. Instead we get caught up in trying to manage the symptoms (our painful feelings) using all sorts of things; medication, busyness, therapy etc. etc.
The definition of stuffing feelings is to negatively judge our feelings as being unacceptable and then deny them. Stuffing is inevitable when we engage in judging ourselves for what we feel. We deny these “bad” feelings because to allow ourselves to acknowledge what we feel sets us up for self-negation. We’re not supposed to feel what we've learned are “unacceptable” feelings and when we do we're mad at ourselves about it. We can't accept it. Who wants to feel all that? So instead, we deny what we feel which pushes the story further underground where it continues to generate more “bad” feelings. Our psyches become like an internal nuclear energy plant, generating lots of volatile energy with no safe outlet – build-up with no release – Ka-boom!.
This sort of accumulation of low frequency energy in the psyche has got to go somewhere. We either turn it into self-loathing and depression and/or we project it out, onto others. When we are loaded down with heavy energy, we unconsciously look for someone to hang it on. We need someone to carry the unclaimed emotional “load” that we've denied. We find someone out there who fits the part and then we unconsciously “assign” them all the stuff we can't accept about ourselves. In essence, we project our painful past onto our current relations and call it “love”. (“Ain't love grand?” :))
Projections are, by nature, unconscious. However, we can become aware of our projections using the very thing we’ve been denying – our feelings! This is the way to “feel our feelings” as an aid to clearing and healing. We learn to use our painful feelings, not as an end in itself, but to signal us when a story (or projection) is in progress. Anytime we're upset or feeling low, we are running a story. If we're upset with someone, it means that we've projected a story onto them.
My reactions and projections are always about me.
As a way to use your feelings to heal, do the following:
When you notice that you are feeling an uncomfortable feeling – tune into it – feel it … where is it in the body? … name the feeling(s) and then listen closely to the thoughts that are tied to it. Use the painful feelings to find the root cause in the thinking mind.
Again and again I remind myself to follow the feelings IN to their source. Intervene there on the mental plane.
Stay with the thoughts that surface, following it in to the underlying story … for every concept that comes up, ask yourself if that is really true and explore what it creates when you believe it.
In answer to the question about intellectualizing feelings … true release from painful emotional states comes from investigating and re-framing limiting thoughts and beliefs. Rather than causing us to stuff our feelings, searching out these mental constructs allows us to stop generating the feelings that were causing us unhappiness. This is the true meaning of “feeling our feelings”. We cannot “release” feelings while we continue to think the thoughts that cause them. We can use our feelings to alert us to a limiting story that is bringing us down … when we address the story, painful feelings dissipate. Peace is restored.