When working with clients I will often ask them to describe their feelings, to focus on what they were feeling at a particular time, to pause and really look at what was or is going on for them. Much more so than thoughts, feelings give an accurate indication of what a person is experiencing, if they can identify the feeling that is.
Not many of us are brought up to talk easily and openly about how we feel. Even acknowledging feelings and emotions can be difficult. Talking about feelings may make us feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, ashamed, or weak, or may be something we simply don’t know how to do.
Yet in counselling, experiencing, articulating and exploring feelings is considered very important. Indeed, feelings can form the heart of a therapy session. It can be useful to know why.
Firstly, feelings and emotions are important because they fuel and motivate human behaviour. If we don’t know what we are feeling and simply act out the behaviour, we may not be prepared for the consequences – for example, other people may react in ways we had never dreamed of. Conversely, if we do know what it is we are feeling, we can behave and act consciously, choosing behaviour that is consistent with how we feel and that will obtain the outcomes we want. I have witnessed the impact of this on people, time and time again, whereby a person's lack of connection to their emotions or attunement into their own feelings lands them in the same painful spot they try have tried so desperately to avoid from eliciting same reactions from others to choosing the wrong partner again.
Furthermore, if we know and understand our emotions, we get to know ourselves much more deeply, which means we can better care for ourselves in a whole-of-person way. We can act in ways that are more beneficial to us and become more able to lead purposeful and positive lives attune with who we really are.
Why Do We Have Feelings and Emotions?
Emotions motivate us to take action. If you are faced with a test or exam your emotions of anxiety or stress can push you into studying more. If a certain activity or hobby makes us feel content or happy we are more likely to do more of it.
Emotions help us survive, do well and avoid danger. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions help us stay alive, pushing us into appropriate reactions or to change course where necessary. So if we feel scared in a certain situation we may either get ready to fight, or run away. Feelings of unhappiness, on the other hand, might lead us to change direction in our lives. Feelings of pride or satisfaction might prompt us to continue to do our best at work.
Emotions help us make decisions. Even when we believe that we are acting purely out of logic, research shows that emotions always play an important part in any decisions we make. These range from unimportant decisions like what to have for breakfast to whether or not we should go for a job promotion.
Emotions help other people to understand us and relate to us. Emotions are often clearly visible on a person's face, or in how they stand or walk or talk. So they serve as social signals. When other people see that we feel happy or sad they receive important information which will influence how they react to us.
Emotions help us understand others. The emotional expressions of those around us give us a great deal of information which is important inter-personally and socially. With this information we can choose to respond appropriately, and so build deeper and more meaningful relationships with others. As we become more skilled at understanding others we become better able to communicate well in a great variety of situations.
The Language Of Feelings
When a client first starts exploring their feelings and starts talking about them, describing them, it can be hard for them to find the language. This is completely normal in my experience. Very rarely do any of us have formal discussions about feelings or emotions outside of the therapy room and so we've never had to learn a language to describe them. Something like the feelings wheel, one version from feelingswheel.com shown below, is an excellent tool to assist clients, either to have with them during therapy or for their own reflection.
The client can start from the centre of the wheel with an emotion they may very quickly identified, such as 'Fearful' and as they work outwards they may refine their description of the emotion to 'Rejected' and 'Excluded' which may give an indication of how they are feeling in a particular relationship for example. The value of the wheel can be seen in the fact that the same starting point for this feeling 'Fearful' can also lead through 'Scared' to 'Frightened' which paints a very different picture of what the client may be feeling.
Why does your therapist continue to ask about your feelings then?
They do that so you can explore what's really going on. What is driving you forward or holding you in place. Your exploration highlights these things to you. When you are able to accurately identify your feelings, you are far better placed to take action to address them even if that action is merely to accept them. I shall further discuss this in another blog post.
Contact Me if you want to begin to explore your own feelings.
(original article can be found at https://www.allrelationshipmatters.com.au/ )