Why do we have feelings?

Feelings, emotions, whatever you want to call them, they have a bad rap these days. It's not uncommon that I'll hear my clients express an overall aversion to their own emotional experiences. Emotions are seen as pesky little things, uncomfortable sensations we just rather do without. They're illogical, misleading roadblocks...or so the sentiment goes. At best, we begrudgingly tolerate them, at worst, we seek extreme measures to numb, suppress, distract and avoid.

The reality is, to be human is to have emotion of all kinds. It's important we have the skills to be able to deal with the uncomfortable stuff when it shows up. I see two major reasons for this. 1) So often our attempts to NOT deal with our emotions is actually increasing our suffering and 2) our emotions might actually be sources of helpful information.

To the first point: An inability to open up to our emotions can lead to a host of unhelpful behaviors: disordered or emotional eating, avoidance of social interactions, addictions of a wide variety (drugs, alcohol, internet, sex, gambling) just to name a few. When we focus on trying to get rid of emotions, as opposed to fostering a willingness to have them, we are engaged in a battle against our own experience. While these behaviors often allow us to avoid painful feelings temporarily, there effects aren't lasting, and more often than not leave us feeling worse than we did before.

To the second point: We are born with basic emotions that actually help us to navigate the world we live in. Feeling states such as fear, disgust, and loneliness often alert us to environmental needs that require our attention. If a bear walked into your cubicle at work, it's fear, not making a pros and cons list in your head, that will propel you to finding safety as quickly as possibly. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy we teach a concept called Wise Mind. To be in wise mind means to make room for both logic and emotion. Relying too heavily on either one leaves us with an incomplete picture. Marrying the too allows us to take the best course of action.

Being able to recognize, have space for, and hear out your emotions can be a transformational skill for your life. I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your relationship with own your emotional experiences. How often are you actually aware of what you are feeling? How do you react when something uncomfortable arises? Do you feel in control in the face of disturbing feelings or do they have control of you?

Karly HoffmanComment