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Feeling Our Feelings

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.

3 Responses

  1. Or to sum it all up in a LOT fewer words … 🙂 (I awoke this morning with a clear, concise summary statement that I believe addresses your concerns … let’s see if I can write it as concisely as it came to me then ….)

    What we see in our day to day lives … whatever that is … is … each and every time, simply a reflection of our own thoughts and beliefs.” Our mental concepts determine our outer experience.

    If you want peace and harmony in your outer experience, clear your inner story. Our beliefs and ideas materialize into the forms we experience every day. If we believe someone is trying to take advantage of us – that life is dangerous … THAT will be our life experience.

    I’m not asking that you take my word for it … test these ideas in the laboratory of your own life and see what you find.

    Thanks for listening.
    Blessings, Lynne

  2. Thank you for your questions… they are excellent! I love to think about how this process works and so appreciate your willingness to engage me in dialogue about it. ….

    What you are calling “real” situations are simply something happening out there that we tell ourselves a story about. What that is will determine our reaction. How I react will cue the environment about how they need to respond to me and “Wallah! I have my evidence my story is true.

    Becoming aware that what I see out there is ALWAYS a reflection of my own inner story I look for what belief in me is being reflected. When I find it there, I respond to the external situation in a totally different way …I am able to respond from a story-free (for the moment) space without projecting my story onto it. As a result the outcome is totally different!

    Let me give you an example:
    I meet someone and feel an immediate wariness towards them … I recognize that they remind me of someone who I had a painful encounter in the past. I immediately distrust and view them with suspicion.
    I treat them accordingly …

    In the past … when I lived from a place where my emotions ruled, I would have projected my story of my past hurt onto this person and then I would have started behaving as if that were true.

    Because that is what we do … When we believe something we act as if it’s true and when we act as if it’s true then we act in a way that gets us the proof that it’s true.

    For instance, If I believe, for instance that I can’t trust people … that I have to be on guard constantly … how am I going to respond to people? Having been there, I can tell you how I did …. I used distancing behaviors in all my relationships…. behaviors like temper flare ups, avoidance, refusal to trust … even when there was no reason to distrust – and then I would somehow let my guard down and trust the very one person who would (am I surprised?) prove to me that I was right …”See … I CAN’T trust people!”.

    So what else can I do? …

    IF I were having a story-free moment when I encountered this person that is bringing my hackles up … I would immediately notice my hackles … even as I’m watching the person who is triggering me, I’m already asking what aspect of my mind is being made visible to me here. Because I understand that I only react negatively to that which brings up a story in me… This event, person, situation has come into my life for a reason… and that reason is FOR my own enlightenment.

    I know that EVERYTHING I see out there happened FIRST on a belief level within my own mind.

    It’s our BELIEFS (I keep using Caps because I can’t seem to find the embolden or italics option… :)) that keeps us attracting the same old patterns into our lives. (“Here I am again, going head to head with someone just like my ex!”) We keep thinking we need to be ever vigilant … and prepared – which means, DEFENDED and that state of being, energetically speaking, is what attracts us to more of that which will verify our need to defend. It’s a downward spiral.

    It’s important to remember that our feelings come from our thoughts.
    Our emotions ARE important. And certainly, they CAN serve to warn us when we’ve attracted something uncomfortable into our lives. I’ve learned to follow my feelings in as quickly as possible to the story that is generating them. I believe my feelings come to point me IN to their origin and not out in reaction.

    So … when a situation or person triggers a negative emotional response in me … I notice my reaction … AND ask myself what I’m telling myself about the situation. I want to make my internal story conscious so that I can determine whether it’s really true or not. I want to question it and find the message that the situation has come to bring … “What is this person (or situation) mirroring to me?

    What ever stress producing beliefs come up – all the negative should’s and shouldnt’s – all this is being made visible for my clearing opportunity!

    This is how I see it. It is something I use every day in every situation. It brings peace and trust in a benevolent Universe.

    Because I see it this way, I respond very differently with people that trigger me. I don’t have to project an old story onto them … I can see that they have triggered a story in me and at the same time see the reality about them. I might, for instance see that they tend towards painful patterns of reactive drama and choose not to participate … but I don’t have to have a story about them being “just like my ex” in order to “protect” myself from them. I simply see their patterns or trust my “sense” of them and stay away.

    Of course, if we find ourselves in a dangerous situation … we MOVE …. we take action! And then when we’re safe again … we go through the process described above.
    Blessings, Lynne

  3. I understand just about everything you’ve said here. However, isn’t there room also for normal healthy emotions? The kind of thing where you feel afraid when you damn well ought to, because there’s danger. Or when someone punches you in the nose, and you have negative emotions – and you damn well ought to have negative emotions toward that person.
    If your reactions are ALWAYS about you, and the story you’re running – just where did that story begin if they were ALWAYS about you?? Get what I mean?

    Many, if not most, of my emotional reactions, even the ones that resemble “stories from the past”… are reactions to REAL (not imagined) situations, and there’s good reasons they resemble those past circumstances.

    I meet someone, and I have an immediate dislike & distrust of them… because they remind me of someone dangerous who was untrustworthy in my past. Well, I think it’s fool-hearty to assume I’m “just running an old story”, and decide to deny these new feelings and trust that person. In most situations where a new person reminded me of a bad situation with someone from the past, and I dismissed it as MY emotions MY issue, INVARIABLY it turns out that I should have trusted those initial feelings of wariness, in some cases the new person being worse than the one from the past! There were clues that alerted me on an emotional level, to the same type of character in the new person, as the old.

    So if I go around thinking that my reactions are ALWAYS about me, and nothing to do with what’s happening to me or what other people are doing, I would be unable to use my emotions for the purpose for which they well-suited… protecting me and allowing me to survive and take care of myself.

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