Thursday, 22 March 2012 11:00

How are you feeling?

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Someone spoke to me recently of the ‘dark’ emotions: anger, envy, hatred, jealousy. These are the feelings we don’t think we should feel and so we have learned to try and suppress them. We often do not recognise them, let alone dare to name them to ourselves. The one I notice most people avoiding is anger, maybe because they associate the feeling with violence. But anger is just a feeling. And feelings never hurt anyone. Whereas what we do as a response to our feelings may indeed be hurtful or damaging. And not necessarily to others, but to ourselves.

Surprisingly, some people do not allow themselves to feel love, or pity, or compassion. Maybe it wasn’t allowed in your family or you paid a high price for such a feeling. Emotions such as tenderness, sympathy and kindness have, especially in the past, been seen as feminine emotions and come to be equated with weakness and vulnerability. That has made them shameful for men, and now, I think, for those who live in a highly competitive world.  But they are in fact simply human qualities and their absence in the emotional repertoire is a constriction, a loss.

When envy is named, there can be an offended response. But if someone has something we deeply aspire to: safety, a permanent home, a secure income which brings certain luxuries, the success that seems always to escape us, then why would we not feel envy for that longed for thing? Envy is not ugly – it is natural. We can choose to act in a creative or a destructive way as a response to that emotion.

Sue Gerhardt, in her important book ‘Why Love Matters – how affection shapes a baby’s brain’, tells us “Emotions are central to self-regulation. They are the biological response of the organism to other people and situations, and this response can be a useful basis for reflection and a guide to action.” Feelings tell you something about how you are judging a situation. Sometimes that judgment is not appropriate. It may arise from out-of-date information. One of the advantages of being thinking beings is that we can train ourselves to stop and reflect, name the feeling that is driving our action, and choose our response.

Bring your feelings into the light. It can be an instructive experience.

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