How to Make Sense of Your Feelings and the Importance of Sharing Them

Human beings as a species have an innate desire to connect with others in some way. That is the basis of how we function in our everyday lives, and can make sense of who we are. We need human interaction to make sense of the world, and everything that happens to us in our lives. This is the reason why it is important that people share their stories, and listen to others stories.

When walking down the streets of Seattle, you will come across a lot of people, and you know what? Every individual has a story to tell, which makes you wonder, what kind of life others are leading, and whether your life, your experiences, and feelings matter. Your feelings allow you to connect with others, but unfortunately for many newcomers in Seattle, the Seattle Freeze (a cultural phenomenon that stems from Seattleites not being overly friendly with strangers), prevents many from forming lasting connections. Although, if you approach the subject, most Seattleites will tell you they crave relationships more than anything else.

Why are feelings important?

People generally have a hard time expressing themselves, because all of us have been conditioned to act hard, and be hard all the time. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and express how you feel to others, and the reason why many find it difficult is because it isn’t common or accepted.

                      "Feelings are mental experiences of body states"

Feelings arise from the body’s response to external stimuli. For example, when you are threatened, you experience fear, and feel horror. Existential analysis/psychotherapy isn't just about philosophy, but it is about tuning into what we are experiencing and feeling. Using what emerges to help us figure out our positioning. We shouldn't be afraid of our feelings, but see them as a welcome guest that helps us move and be in the world. Additionally, when we fully feel our feelings for all that they are, we are energized.

The feelings you experience are necessary because they are what drives the human body, and without feelings you would have no purpose in life. The human body will be an empty shell if people didn’t express emotions or if they didn’t understand their feelings.

If you lost the ability to tell the difference between hot and cold, and didn’t know how to express feelings of pain, strength or weakness, how you would function? That is why feelings are important, because they allow you to discern possible danger or harm in an environment.

There are different sets of feelings, and we were only discussing the physical feelings, which are meant to help us survive. However, it is the emotional feelings that people have problems with coming to grips with, because they don’t want to accept what they are feeling. The most interesting thing about feelings is that you have the ability to perfect and refine your feelings if you accept them and learn from your mistakes. With physical feelings that is obvious. For instance, if a child touches a hot stove, they will know that it isn’t a smart idea, since it can result in physical harm. However, it is also true for your emotional feelings.

Why must we make sense of our feelings?

As you grow older, you start getting more adept at expressing and identifying your emotional feelings, and this, in turn, helps you become socially adept, as you build relationships with people around you. The better you are at expressing and identifying your feelings, the better the relationships you will develop. However, it is a difficult thing to master, because, in the process of growing up, many of us lose the ability to express or understand our emotional feelings.

This could be down to the way you were brought, as some parents tend to teach their kids to stop responding to their feelings. This can result in growing up with a dysfunctional emotional state, and when you add physical, emotional, and psychological abuse into the picture, it gets harder. The way you are brought up has a significant impact on how you make sense of your feelings. For people, who grew up suppressing their feelings, they tend to resort to drugs, and become victims of mental illness, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

There are a lot of people today that have lost touch with their emotional feelings, and struggle to make sense of what they are feeling. They have been conditioned to think that what they are feeling is normal, and that everyone is going the same thing. They are not entirely wrong, but the attitude of resentment stops them from addressing the problem, and that leads to difficulty dealing with authority figures, co-workers and difficult friends. Losing touch with your emotional feelings is dangerous, because it can lead to nervous breakdowns, and leading difficult lives in a conflictual family relationship. Others may be living with alcohol or drug addicted individuals, who are mentally ill, and this leads them to question their existence, because they start blaming themselves and wondering, “Is living hell? Why can’t I find any peace?”.

The reason they end up feeling like that, and drowning in depression, is because the important skills that should have been developed for making sense of feelings never got the chance to flourish. Expressing your emotions has never been easy, but it only gets harder once you cross the threshold from childhood and step into adulthood. Now you realize that screaming loudly isn’t going to help, hitting isn’t an option, and violence is only going to bring more problems.

The feeling of Hopelessness and self-loathing

One of the worst things that happens when you fail to express your emotions is that you start slipping down a dangerous slope, which drags you down, and leaves you feeling hopeless. You start loathing yourself and blaming yourself for everything, without ever knowing what is wrong with you. Nothing works out the way you want it to, and you end up chasing after everyone in your life, trying to remain calm, while your life falls apart you.

When all hope is gone, you give up, because you no longer have the stamina to keep on fighting and struggling every single thing. You have drained all your energy, and accepted that there is nothing that can go right in your life. That is a result of losing touch with your feelings, and that makes you numb as a person, because you stop feeling emotions. You no longer cry at sad events, and happiness is a social construct that you have no idea about any longer.

You have hit rock bottom, and in some aspects accepted what you are going through. This revelation is good, because now you have the knowledge that you are out of touch with your feelings, and this places you in a good position to recover from this place quickly. It is when you are going through confused and painful feelings, do you come to the realization if your life would be better without feelings?

Does your anxiety serve any purpose? Is your bad luck biological? Does your depression have any meaning? Why are feelings so painful and why do they last so long? IS there any benefit for repeating sessions of grief or obsessing over love?

It is important to note that when you are struggling to confront your feelings, and try making sense of them, you should appreciate that feelings are supposed to bring joy and purpose in your life. If you can align your feelings with your life, you will bring positivity back, and can start trusting yourself again.

The purpose and role of feelings

Understanding your feelings understanding what you feel and why you feel that way. The why part has two elements: the past events that caused you to feel a particular way and the function or purpose that these feelings have. When getting to grips with your feelings, it's not enough to reflect on what caused your feelings, you also need to explore what those feelings are prompted to do. Feelings are spurs to action, but not necessarily to positive action. When your feelings are disordered and confused they cannot help you. Understanding the 'why' of feelings in the broadest sense is the path to recovering your ability to lead a meaningful life. A basic taxonomy of the function of feelings in human development is one of the tools you need.

1. Feelings help us survive

The main reason human beings developed feelings is so that the body could alert us about everyday threats to our survival. Our body constantly sends reports about the state of the world to our mind, and that is conveyed through feelings. That is why we scan the surrounding environment for opportunities or dangers that will satisfy our basic needs. It is your feelings that alert you about whether something is good or bad for you, and your body takes action based on that. Not only survival, but amidst a conversation with another, we are constantly getting signals, mostly unconscious, that same as survival, help us towards living out our actuality of a meaningful life - subjective as it might be.

Question the reason why your feelings try to help you survive or why they protect you? Once you acknowledge and accept the positive role that feelings play in your life, you will find it easier to reason that you need your feelings to accomplish your goals in life.

2. Feelings promote emotional attachment and social interaction

Everyone faces different dangers in their lives, and it is your survival instincts that get you out of tricky or threatening situations. The experiences you have had as an infant are the ones that shape your feelings in adulthood. Human nature is to survive at all costs, and our feelings play a big role in helping us to engage with our surroundings. That is the reason why we have an emotional attachment with our parents as infants, because that emotional attachment serves as the basis for interaction, stimulation, comfort, and care.

If infants don’t develop emotional attachments, they won’t survive, and the human mind is constantly aware of danger in our surroundings. We fear being abandoned, and have no one to care for us. That is the reason why you question whether your human environment is emotionally and intellectually stimulating. It also results in helping you analyze your feelings for interplay and interpersonal connections, or figure out whether the people close to you in life are treacherous or trustworthy.

You must question yourself continuously, and make an active effort to understand your feelings, and what they are telling you about the relationships in your life. Do you get the sensation that you aren’t loved or could be abandoned? Do you feel as if you haven’t earned the love of people in your life, and that you aren’t ever good enough? These questions seem heavy, and we may not want to live that contemplative of a life, but I assure you that in time as you begin forging new habits it becomes quite automatic. A life-giving and meaningful activity you nurture into yourself.

3. Feelings support growth

When you are growing up an infant, you feel the enjoyment of developing new skills, and mastering them, while you go about exploring your interpersonal world. As an infant, you are an incessant learner, and that doesn’t stem from any need or necessity. You are spontaneously spurred on by the feelings of accomplishing something, and that amazing feeling of progressing from crawling to walking, and then eventually running is all with the help of feelings.

They help you pull yourself forward, and accomplish more in life, and when they are blocked, it leads to depression, because you are emotionally upset. That is why you think that your childhood years are the best phase in your life, because that is when you experience emotional growth, and learn to identify and recognize feelings. It is only when you stop challenging yourself, exploring your state of mind, and enjoying or mastering new competencies do you feel as if life has stopped for you.

It is the power of feelings that support growth, and without them, your will to learn, and face new challenges in life go away.

4. Feelings move us towards health and 'more life'

The feelings you go through on a daily basis are what defines everything in your life. They don’t just define your experiences as an infant, but also help you make sense of your adult life. The way forward. Feelings are the source of your energy, and health, and end in helping you achieve satisfaction from life. Even the most difficult and painful feelings have the potential to expand and energize our existential in the world and relationship to life. Without feelings, you won’t enjoy your sexuality, you won’t get the pride of parenthood, the integrity of ethical living, the payoffs of work that help you acquire products integral for community life and supporting your life. The feelings in your life help you establish a deepening sense of intergenerational success in your family life, and appreciate wellness and wholeness in your life.

Once you begin to trust the motivation and deepest movements of your feelings, you will be able to move forward towards health, and living life to its fullest. That is because your feelings help you access and rely on wisdom and intelligence. Your feelings and emotions serve different purposes in life, but ultimately you won’t be able to survive in life if you choose to live a life without feeling. The ability to express emotions is something that everyone must learn, because they motivate you to act in different ways, and provide you with the resources and tools to interact meaningfully in your social world.

Caleb Dodson, MA is an existential and relational psychotherapist in Seattle. To read his profile click here or visit his website.

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01 Feb 2018

By Caleb Dodson, MA

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