About Your Feelings

Feelings are important because they tell us what matters. Feelings are like a compass because they orient us to what we need, to what matters to us. Going through life without access to one’s feelings is like flying a plane without an instrument panel. It’s hard to know who one is, what one needs or where one wants to go.

As Dr. Leslie Greenberg notes in Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings, basic emotions are people’s core gut responses to situations, their very first feelings in response to a stimulus situation – such as anger at violation, sadness at loss, and fear at threat. Basic emotions carry a direct action tendency. So, for example, anger at violation directs us to thrust forward and stand up for ourselves; sadness at loss, directs us to grieve the loss of someone or something that is important to us; fear of threat directs us to protect ourselves. In addition, there are more complex emotions – such as guilt, remorse, and jealousy, as well as subtle feelings of wonder, appreciation, compassion, and love. The complex emotions, which evolved with the greater development of cognitive abilities of our species, provide us with high-level information about ourselves and the world by telling us if we are feeling on top of the world or down in the dumps.

Although the action tendency of basic emotion is direct and immediate, the message of complex feelings requires reflection. By reflecting on these feelings, we become more aware of what the feelings mean and how best to use the information to solve problems, particularly in relationships.

Given the importance of feelings, it is best to accept all of our feelings, to feel entitled fully to them rather than judging them as rational or irrational, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. Even if we are puzzled or disturbed by a feeling, it is best to embrace it and to reflect on it knowing that we are feeling it for a reason.

Also, it is best to extend the attitude of acceptance of all of our feelings to the feelings of others. For example, while it is okay to differ with one’s partner’s opinions or point of view, it is unhelpful to convey that one’s partner should not feel what he or she is feeling. Regardless of what one’s partner is feeling, it is best to validate the partner’s feeling by saying, “It makes sense that you feel disappointed…” or “I get that you are feeling frustrated…” For an example of how I validate partner’s feelings in couple’s therapy, see the clinical case, or visit my Emotionally Focused Therapy page.

This article is the first in a series of articles about feelings which draw heavily on Dr. Geoffrey Carr’s book, Making Happiness. I hope that you will find these articles helpful in your journey.