Feelings are an important part of our humanity. No matter what culture, age, gender, sexuality, country, politics or religion you may identify with, feelings are common to us all. Taking this further, it is something that we share with other species as well.
With the exception of people who have a specific health issue that make feelings difficult to connect with, we all have the potential to know what it is to be sad or grieving; to be angry, frustrated or full of rage; to experience fear, anxiety or terror and we all share the capacity for joy and happiness. Many of us are taught to know what it is to feel guilty or ashamed, although there are some cultures, for example in Tibet , where there is no word for guilt. There is a whole spectrum of feelings from despair and hopelessness to laughter and even uncontrollable giggles that show us what it is to be truly human.
As part of our socialisation, we can become wary of our emotions being out of control but often even the strongest feelings rarely last very long and can be fleeting. However, it is also common place for us to become attached or stuck in certain patterns of feelings that can become buried in our psyche, especially if they are unexpressed or even denied. These can sit dormant, even simmering, for years. This is often the reason why we may seek counselling as adults, to explore, express and understand such feelings.
It is important to normalise our amazing capacity for emotion. I have often worked with clients who were highly critical of themselves for their feelings. There is a huge difference between having a feeling and acting upon it. One of the reasons I wrote an earlier blog about fairy tales is that such stories in childhood can make us more comfortable and accepting of a whole range of feelings that are entirely normal and ‘human’, however extreme they may feel sometimes.
We need stories to explain, illustrate, understand and normalise our experiences and our lives as they unfold. I often found myself saying to clients who found the way they felt to be: weird; difficult; uncomfortable; irrational; disturbing – ‘welcome to the rest of the human race’. Feelings are rarely neatly packaged, as thoughts can be and yet to be without them limits our ability to feel, even extremes that make us real and also challenging to ourselves and others.
It is important for us to be as aware and wise about feelings as it is for us to be aware and wise about our intellectual, physical and spiritual capacities. In the counselling room, much of the process is about focusing on feelings, what they are, where they come from and choices we make because of them. It is a place to grow and develop that awareness. We can be taught how to be clever and intelligent but to become wise, we need to be aware and able to manage every aspect of ourselves, inside and outside, and most especially our feelings.