When I was growing up, my parents made it very clear that feelings were to be avoided. I heard homilies such as "don't cry over spilled milk, " or "I'll give you something to cry about." When I was upset or crying, I was ignored or sent to my room. The only difficult feeling that seemed to be allowed was my mother's anger -- but not mine. The only feeling I was allowed was "happy."
Not only did I learn never to share any feelings other than "happy" with my parents, I also learned to stay in my head and disconnect from my feelings. It was the only sensible way to cope with life in my home.
My parents role-modeled various ways of avoiding their feelings: food, anger, blame, judgments and criticism, busyness, withdrawal. Of course, over the years of living with them, I adopted some of these ways to avoid feeling my own feelings.
But avoiding feelings can make you sick. Feelings that get stuck inside are like festering wounds that can get worse and worse over time. By the time I was 20 years old, I was physically and emotionally unhealthy. That's when I went for help and started to open to my feelings.
Still, it took me many years to understand that feelings are a source of inner guidance -- letting me know whether I'm on the right or wrong track in my thinking and behavior, and tuning me in to what I need to attend to, regarding others and events.
In unearthing my own feelings and working for years counseling others, I discovered there are two very different kinds of feelings. I call them "core feelings" and "wounded feelings."
Core Painful Feelings
Core painful feelings are the existential feelings of life, such as:
- Heartache, sadness
- Fear of real and present danger
- Helplessness over others and events
- Outrage over injustice
These are the feelings that occur due to loss, trauma, injustice and challenging life events.
Wounded Painful Feelings
Wounded feelings are the painful feelings we create by how we treat ourselves and what we tell ourselves. Wounded feelings are feelings such as:
We create these feelings by ignoring our feelings, judging ourselves, turning to addictions to avoid our feelings, and making others responsible for our feelings. All the self-abandoning things we do to avoid our deeper, core painful feelings create our wounded feelings.
What Our Feelings Tell Us
1. I Am Rejecting/Abandoning Myself
Our wounded feelings instantly let us know that we are off track in our thinking and/or behavior. For example, if you tell yourself that you are bad, wrong, unworthy or unlovable, you will likely feel alone, shamed, depressed and/or empty inside. If you tell yourself that you will always be alone, you might feel anxious. If you allow others to abuse you, you will likely feel angry, anxious and/or depressed.
If you continue to avoid these feelings with various addictive behaviors, you will continue to create them. Instead, you can open to learning about what these feelings are telling you about your false beliefs that are limiting you, and about your behaviors that may be harming you.
2. Someone Is Being Unloving to Me
Core feelings such as loneliness, heartache and heartbreak may be alerting us to the fact that someone is behaving in a way that is uncaring to us. Rather than shaming and blaming yourself when someone is unloving, which then creates the wounded feelings, you can open to learning about what is happening between you and another person. When you blame yourself for another's unloving behavior, your ego-wounded self wants to control by changing yourself -- rather than accepting your helplessness over others. It's hard to accept that we can't control others -- that we don't "make" them act out in anger, blame, violence, addictions or withdrawal.
When we accept our helplessness over others, then we can move our focus within, lovingly attending to our painful core feelings, and taking loving action in our own behalf -- such as disengaging from an uncaring or abusive person.
3. Something Is Dangerous
Have you ever ignored an inner prompting of danger and then experienced a dangerous situation? Many of my clients tell me about how grateful they are to have listened to their inner dread regarding a dangerous situation, enabling them to avoid even life-threatening situations; one person told me of someone who actually was killed after not paying attention to an internal feeling of dread. Another client told me that, as a child, he and his best friend were walking home from school together when a man stopped and offered them a ride home. He refused but his friend got into the car. He frantically tried to stop his friend, but his friend wouldn't listen. His friend was murdered.
These are not isolated situations. I've heard over and over the results of people listening or not listening to their feelings.
4. Something Is Wrong Physically
"I had a feeling that something was really wrong inside, but I didn't want to know about it. By the time I want to the doctor, the cancer had spread."
It's vitally important to pay attention to our inner knowing -- the feeling that something needs to be attended to physically. It could be a matter of life and death.
5. I Need to Make a Major Change in My Life
Brad became a lawyer because his father had been a lawyer, and had urged him to follow in his footsteps. But Brad hated law. He was a creative person and writing was his passion. But he feared his father's disapproval should he change professions and fail financially. Finally, due to ongoing depression, he started the novel he always wanted to write. Today, Brad is a successful writer, making even more money than he made as a lawyer.
Brad's depression was informational -- letting him know he was on the wrong track professionally.
Our feelings are always informational -- a profound source of inner guidance. I encourage you to value your feelings and listen to what they are telling you, rather than ignoring and avoiding them.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free! Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.
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