I pay no attention whatsoever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.
– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Do you ever feel like you are stuck in the middle of a tug of war between your heart and your mind? If so, which one would you say normally wins?
If you are like the vast majority of people, the answer is likely to be your mind. Too few of us listen to our true feelings; thus we fail to take on board the important messages they send.
In this article, I’m going to explore why this happens, what you need to remember about feelings, how to understand them, and the best way to deal with them.
The Current Status Quo
I don’t think I’m missing the mark by much when I say that most people are primarily guided by their thoughts. The desire to weigh up the pros and cons of every situation is strong because this is often taught as the best way to tackle problems.
With respect to some issues, in which an optimal solution can be obtained through reason, this makes perfect sense. However, I’d have to question how many times this is truly possible.
And yet here we are; a collective of human beings who let logic dictate how we live our lives. We suppress our emotions in favor of our minds, believing that this is the best way to achieve contentment and avoid disappointment.
Not to expose your true feelings to an adult seems to be instinctive from the age of seven or eight onwards.
– George Orwell
One of the main reasons for this is because we wish to conform to a society which typically rejects feelings as undesirable.
Our education systems tend to come in a ‘one size fits all’ form in which individuality struggles to blossom amid a strict curriculum set by a governing body. Rather than embrace the emotions and desires of each pupil, it tries to fit square pegs in round holes. And so, our young people are taught to hide a piece of themselves away in order to get along.
The corporate world of big business is hardly any better on the feeling front. Companies want a particular type of employee; one who is amicable, non-disruptive, the proverbial ‘team player’ who is hard working and good at critical thinking. They are less inclined to hire sensitive people who use their gut to help guide their decisions.
Even in the company of our family and friends, we may not always feel able to express our true feelings. If we believe that they would be contrary to those of others, we may choose to ignore them and wear a mask to gain false acceptance.
These and other social institutions like the media and government all seem to lead us towards a culture of restraint and inhibition.
Try not to get lost in comparing yourself to others. Discover your gifts and let them shine!
– Jennie Finch
Another major reason why we neglect to listen to our emotions is because we are too busy wishing we were someone else.
The desire to compare oneself with others seems to have grown to epidemic proportions for factors that are too broad to go into here.
But the result is that we tune out from what our feelings are telling us we truly want and, instead, focus on what we feel we ought to want based upon what others are doing and what they have.
It’s almost like we have become a population made up primarily of conformists who have forgotten how to be an individual.
Do We Simply Misunderstand Feelings In The First Place?
If someone asked you whether fear or sadness were good or bad, you would instinctively say they were bad. Think again…
A feeling, by itself, isn’t positive or negative; it just is.
When you are sad, it is a form of emotional pain and it can, in many ways, be equated to the physical pain you feel when you cut your finger or bash your knee.
But pain is just the signal that tells your brain that something is wrong; it is the cut or the bruise that is the underlying problem that the body has to deal with.
Similarly, a feeling is just a signal from your inner self to your mind to tell it that something isn’t quite right. Unlike physical pain, however, the underlying problem is often external.
But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.
– Anne Frank
While the body can treat many physical ailments without your intervention, the same cannot be said of emotional issues. You cannot simply ignore sadness in the hope that it will disappear, because you have to address the root causes, much like your body does with physical problems.
I would also suggest that many people assume feelings are illogical, irrational, and unhelpful in making decisions. They, instead, look towards external help and information on which to base things.
Yet, our feelings are not limited to the information we can readily retrieve from our conscious minds, but the much larger library of memories and knowledge stored in the unconscious.
So, in fact, our emotions probably offer a more accurate reflection of all the pros and cons in a situation; many of which we might not be able to understand logically.
The conclusion, then, is that while your logical mind is particularly helpful in some instances, it is very much limited in others. Thus, your feelings and your thoughts should be used simultaneously to varying degrees.
It’s not feelings OR logic; it’s feelings AND logic.
Learning To Listen To Your Feelings
Once you have grasped the importance of listening to your feelings, it becomes an exercise in learning how.
This process has similarities with learning a new language – it will take a little while to understand what’s being said and how best to respond. So don’t expect to master it overnight!
The first step of the process is learning to distinguish between the many different emotions that you might have. It’s not enough to bundle all negative feelings into sadness, fear or anger and all positive ones into happiness, joy or love; we need to expand our emotional vocabulary in order to understand what is being said.
Take envy and jealousy for example; many people would struggle to understand the difference between them. Yet they are distinct in one very important way: envy is what you feel when you desire something that somebody else has, while jealousy is the feeling you get when there is a threat that you may lose something you already have.
You can be envious of another person’s perfect relationship, but you can’t be jealous of it, because there is no threat of loss to you.
Deciphering your feelings is, then, the vital first step in learning from them.
Your body can provide some clues as to what you are feeling, although it is worth bearing in mind that the same physical expression occurs for very different emotions.
For example, excitement and anxiety share some of the same physical elements: sweaty palms, a racing heart, and greater sensitivity to sound and light. But while anxiety might give you an unsettled stomach, this is not a symptom that is always associated with excitement.
Thus, you need to combine your thoughts, physical feelings, and situational cues to help you work out what you are experiencing.
Regular headaches are synonymous with stress and tension, light headedness with shock, and nausea with disgust. So, take notice of what your body is telling you.
A Better Way Of Dealing With Your Feelings
Once you have identified what each feeling is, the next step is to uncover its root cause.
Should you feel jealousy over your partner’s openness with another person, you would have to ask yourself who the third party is that you are jealous of and what they and your partner share that you find so threatening.
Perhaps they discuss their troubles with a parent or sibling rather than with you. First, ask yourself why you find this reality so threatening to your relationship. Perhaps you feel as though you and your partner lack true intimacy because you are not able to communicate as deeply as you’d like.
Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier and simpler.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Then, think about how you might bring this up with them in a way that is non-confrontational.
Finally, consider what actions could be taken to resolve the issue. In this case, you and your partner can either commit to being more open with each other, or you could simply choose to accept that your partner has other close bonds and that this is not symptomatic of a failing relationship.
This step is counter to the usual approach taken, which is to either vent your feelings in a way that is counterproductive (e.g. having a row) or to repress them. Neither option represents a solution.
Incorporating Your Feelings Into Everyday Life
At this point, it is important to discuss how you go about letting your feelings and emotions guide you from day to day.
The first thing to remember is that your feelings are a constant reflection of how the path you have chosen in life matches up to your inner nature. That is to say, they will let you know when you stray from a path that your heart desires and your morals agree with.
With this in mind, you need to start learning to trust in yourself and know that what you feel is likely to be the best guide you will ever have.
This trust is a bit like a muscle – it can be strengthened over time as you work it more and more.
So, my advice is to start small. Begin listening to your emotions in situations that involve little risk and then build up to decisions that are likely to have more wide-ranging consequences.
Maybe you are feeling stifled by the confines of a dreary, grey city or town – take note of what your feelings are telling you and do something about it. Get out to the countryside or the beach and take a walk, or find a little vestige of tranquillity in a park or garden.
Just trust that whatever else you may have had planned for the day, you have been given an important message and it needs to be acted upon now.
The more attuned you become to your feelings – the better you are able to decipher them and distinguish between them – the more you can let them guide you in bigger and bigger decisions.
Your feelings are your god. The soul is your temple.
So, to recap the steps you need to take in order to utilize your feelings:
- Step 1 – listen to your feelings (involves practice to understand each one)
- Step 2 – think about the root cause of your feeling (who, what, why?)
- Step 3 – try to find a way to reach a resolution so that your feelings can subside naturally (i.e don’t suppress them)
- Step 4 – practice, practice, practice
You should not run from your feelings, nor should you hide them away; when understood properly, they can be a source of great wisdom. You have the opportunity today, and every day, to discover your core beliefs and desires and live by them.