When it comes to feelings, I’m not sure how you feel. (See what I did there?)
Maybe feelings seem wishy-washy and unpredictable to you. Maybe you don’t often recognize or understand how you feel. Maybe your feelings seem out of control most of the time, or perhaps, like my husband, you’d much prefer to talk about what you think than what you feel.
No matter what you think about feelings, it’s difficult to dismiss them completely. Whether we recognize it or not, our feelings are a major driving force behind the things we say, the decisions we make and the way we act.
Not only that, but our feelings have important information to offer us, if we can learn to listen to them.
They have to be meaningful, don’t you think?
Here’s the thing. I tend to be really in tune with my feelings. Part of it is I grew up with a psychologist for a dad—a fact which generally elicits the same list of questions:
- “What was that like?”
- “Does he try to psychoanalyze you?”
- “Do you ever ask him to interpret your dreams?”
The truth is, it was really great. He was understanding about all kinds of things other dads weren’t, he interpreted my dreams every now and then (when I was brave enough to share them) and although he tried to psychoanalyze me at times, I picked up on his tricks pretty quick, and just psychoanalyzed him right back.
Two can play at that game.
Anyway, the biggest thing about having psychologist for a dad is I was always given permission to feel what I felt.
Whether I was angry, jealous, scared or sad, I was never required to pretend I felt anything else. In fact, we talked a lot about feelings in my family. Anytime there was an argument, a disagreement, or a disappointment, you can probably guess the question that was asked:
“How does that make you feel?”
The good news about this was I learned, at a really young age, to be in tune with my feelings. To this day, if you ask me how something makes me feel, I don’t have a hard time telling you.
The bad news is, I’m learning lately, that knowing what you feel isn’t enough.
I keep thinking about this lately—about how important feelings are, but how confusing they can be too because they don’t always point me in the right direction. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I feel like drinking a whole bottle of wine in my room by myself at night. Most days, I feel like trading two of my meals for frozen yogurt.
Those feelings are all real. I feel them. But that doesn’t mean that I should act on them.
It doesn’t mean that they’re pointing me toward healing and health.
What does it mean? Well, I’m still trying to figure that out.
I was asking myself these questions recently when a friend confided in me that she feels like getting a divorce. “I’m not going to,” she reassured me, “but I today I really feel like it.” Then she added, “it sure feels good to say that out loud.”
Stories like hers make me think about how important and complicated feelings are and about how trapping it can be be to hide our feelings because we’re worried people won’t accept us if we admit them—
Or because we’re already having a hard time accepting ourselves.
But here’s the crazy thing: have you ever changed a feeling by keeping it to yourself?
I haven’t. In fact, some of the most extravagant mistakes I’ve made have been because I wasn’t admitting my own feelings to anyone else, or to myself.
I feel scared… so I push the people who care for me out of my life.
I feel sad… so I eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting.
I feel jealous… so I act passive-aggressive toward someone I love.
Can we all agree it’s necessary and important to be honest about what we’re feeling—first with ourselves, and then with someone else? There’s a certain release that comes, in my experience, with finally admitting how you feel about something.
But that doesn’t mean we should always act on our feelings. Am I right?
Just talk to me the morning after I’ve eaten a pint of ice cream or drank a whole bottle of wine. Sometimes my feelings steer me away from the solution to a problem.
Sometimes acting on my feelings makes everything worse.
And yet, our feelings are pointing to something. They might not point to what we wish they would, or what we think they do. They might not take us to an easy answer or a three-step solution to our problem. ut they always point to something that is going on inside of us, they’re always sending us a very important message.
So the answer, if you ask me, isn’t to ignore our feelings or to act on them, necessarily.
But somewhere in the middle, we’ll find the peace we’re looking for, I think.
If we have the presence of mind to notice what we’re feeling, the courage to share it, the tenacity to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves where that feeling came from and how it got there—if we have the patience and grace for ourselves to wait for a solution…
I believe we will find it there.