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It's Important to Look at Your Feelings and Find Words for Them

Reflections of trees in waterPHIL: I wrote this reply to a comment on last week’s blog:

I have for some time been fascinated with the idea that language is a recent addition to our understanding of the world and has been so successful that we no longer pay attention to our own non-verbal understanding (I wrote about it here.) Of course, the idea of our subconscious is not new – see Freud etc. – but framing it in this way has helped me in finding where “my thinking resonates with my feelings” as you put it.

The Age of Reason was when much attention was paid to the rational aspect of humans. It gave rise to science and democracy, but in the last century or so, the influence and necessity of emotions in making decisions has become clear. Antonio Damasio studied patients who had brain damage that made them unable to experience emotions. Despite still passing cognitive tests, they could not make decisions about even the simplest of things like whether to use a blue or a black pen.

Our decisions are emotional as much as rational, yet we live so much in the world of words that it can be hard to recognize and name the feelings that underlie our actions. Very often, the reasons we come up with to explain those actions are simply the best excuse we can find to explain our emotional choice.

In a relationship, this is how conflicts can happen. Some situation causes a feeling to arise. It appears as an unease, an irritation with no apparent cause. You look for the reason outside yourself – it must be due to indigestion or how your partner is acting or the neighbor’s dog barking. And that is how an argument starts.

The way through this miasma is to try to avoid the words as much as possible and look for the feelings. Hard, because they don’t come with words attached; it is like groping blindfolded in a bath of ice water trying to find the soap.

But when you do find them, they have a truth that is solid. To quote the comment again, “my thinking resonates with my feelings.” When you offer those feelings to someone else instead of only your reasoning, there is a good chance the other person is moved by your feelings, not your logic. (This occurs through mirror neurons.) In this way a conversation takes place that involves the whole of both of you, and somewhere, you will discover that you are both human.

MAUDE: Some thoughts to what Phil wrote:

I would add that when you stop and search for your true feelings within a given situation, a number of new possibilities arise that can be very helpful in communicating and in replacing potential bad feelings with the potential for resonance and positive outcomes.

Once you know how and why you are responding to a given situation, what you are feeling, then you can formulate those feelings and put them into words. This enables you to communicate about yourself and frees the other person from the natural defensive stance of assuming your “unease” or “irritation” is about them.

They can hear you much better when they aren’t in a defensive posture. They become free to find which feelings you are expressing that they can resonate with. Its often the case that this leads to finding more resonance than disharmony.

I would add that as “a conversation takes place that involves the whole of both of you” that not only will you discover that you are “both human” but you will much more easily realize that you are also both on the same side. This understanding is the underlying connection that allows peaceful harmonious relationships.

Photo credit: Maude Mayes
Photo note: Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden in Santa Barbara

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Books on shelfThis week, we said that it's important to look at your feelings and find words for them. Here a re some articles that offer suggestions on how to articulate your feelings.

Putting Feelings Into Words: 3 Ways to Explain What You Feel "Have you ever had trouble finding the words for what you’re feeling or thinking? Most of us have encountered this difficulty at some time or another. It often happens just when we most need to be able to explain ourselves – when we’re feeling something particularly strongly or in a crisis or just want to communicate a strong feeling. If this happens to you more than it seems to happen to other people you know, you may suffer from a problem called 'alexithymia.'"

Why It Helps to Put Your Feelings Into Words "Putting feelings into words can have attenuating effects on the actual experience of emotions. For example, when participants in one study were asked to label their emotional states as they looked at negative emotionally evocative images (e.g., snake, hospital scene), they reported feeling less distress than if they merely observed the images passively."

How to Communicate Your Feelings "Being understood and accepted are universal human needs. So, when you share your inner experiences and feelings, youre more likely to connect in deep and meaningful ways. Youre also more likely to get your needs met, leading to happier and healthier relationships. Sharing your feelings can be a daunting proposition. When you share your feelings you allow yourself to be vulnerable. This vulnerability can be scary; it leaves your open to the possibility of being hurt, but it can also lead to the deepest connections."

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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