This is a big topic, so this post confines itself to a summary of the latest three journal entries from 11 years ago, which place the emphasis on deciphering my own feelings rather than worrying about other people’s; and making a conscious choice to feel rather than analyse when listening to someone. The post looks briefly at the evolution of the brain and explains why feelings are so important in our daily lives.
Just as life has evolved over time, so has the brain. In simple terms, successive parts of the brain evolved for controlling the basic functions (breathing and heartbeat), our fight or flight response, and the more advanced emotional functions. It is this last aspect – emotions and feelings – which accompanied the evolution from reptile to mammal; from animals which care little or not at all for their young, to a group of animals (mammals) which care intensely and lovingly for their offspring, forming emotional bonds with them and, of course, with each other.
Being capable of emotions means we are also able to judge, interpret and even anticipate the feelings of others. This is very useful when dealing with our young who, in their early stages of life, are unable to communicate (let alone identify their feelings effectively) and are dependent on the adults for their survival. Evolution did not stop there, however, and the brain developed further, providing us with additional abilities such as language. As a result, we are in a position to expect our young, when the time comes, to be able to tell us what they want (or don’t want); what they need; and what they desire.
We extend this expectation to all our interpersonal relationships and so it has become more prominent to ask of each other what we want or what the problem is, rather than how we feel. For this reason, we are not as proficient as we could be at being able to identify and communicate our feelings. The first entry from 11 years ago (‘Thoughts on Others’ Feelings’) examines my assumptions of how other people might be feeling. This is partly because of my ‘Please Others‘ driver (TA), which leads me to second guess what people may or may not be feeling. (See this entry for an explanation of drivers.)
When I make such assumptions my conclusions are nearly always subjective, assuming others feel the same way that I would feel in their shoes. Moreover, when we consider how different people can be from each other, we get an impression of how pointless it is to try and guess how others are feeling. The second of the posts (‘Feel My Feelings’) moves away from the futility of making assumptions and worrying about how others feel. Instead, it focuses on acknowledging my own feelings, which is a better use of my time and energy.
Interestingly, when we do this we increase the likelihood of being able to tune into other people’s feelings anyway. Karaj was often heard to remark that a particular feeling I was having was not mine, but the other person’s. How can we tell the difference? With practice and in the same way we separate our intuitive knowing from the constructs of our mind. (See ‘Controlled Experiments’ for more information on this.)
The final post of this summary (‘Positivity and People’) ends with a few words on how much more effective it is to feel what people are saying than to analyse their words. If we try to analyse we may miss the feeling. Sometimes it is nothing more than a momentary flicker of confusion, doubt or incongruency. When it happens with my clients I usually stop the conversation and ask questions. I may not know what I’m looking for but my feelings are guiding me, telling me there is something there. And they are a very reliable barometer of what is going on.
Unfortunately, we tend to discount our feelings, dismissing them as unimportant, unnecessary, misplaced, or just plain wrong. They are often transient calls to attention which are easily overridden or ignored; or they remain unnoticed because we’ve been doing so for years. But if we stop and listen to what our feelings are telling us, if we tune in to ourselves, we will discover an easier, more effective and more fulfilling path through life.