Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nice to Meet You

It’s a new month and we’re moving on to Step 4 – Feel your feelings. What does feeling our feelings have to do with finding our happy place? Well, as the former queen of denial, I can tell you from experience that denying some feelings results in denying all feelings. And feelings will not be denied forever. They will find a way to manifest – in other feelings, in behaviors, in our minds, in our bodies. You have to admire them for their tenacity and confidence. Feelings are the best model we have of self-esteem. They demand respect.

When I lived in Thailand, I was impressed by how many words for feelings the Thai language offers. There are gradations and shades and nuances that are not available in English. Because language is so connected to our perception of ourselves and our world, it seems to me that the Thai people are much more self-aware of feelings in themselves and others. They know their feelings much better than we English speakers do.

Does that make them happier? Eric Weiner thinks so. I just read his book The Geography of Bliss, in which he recounts his search for the happiest places in the world, including Thailand, known as the land of smiles. Along with many words for feelings, the Thais also have many words in their language for different kinds of smiles. Interesting, don’t you think?

So let’s see what we can learn about our feelings this month. Let’s start by becoming acquainted with them. Some of us go through our lives without giving much attention to our feelings. Most of the time, we don’t even know what we’re feeling. This was a challenge for me at an earlier time in my life. When I was in therapy, my therapist was a real stickler for feelings awareness. I would often start a sentence by saying, “I feel like....” She would stop me right there, and encourage me to identify an actual feeling. For example, if I said I felt “like” bolting right out of her office, she would encourage me to say instead that I felt angry or afraid or sad or confused or (fill in the blank).

For those of you who are Thai or who know what you’re feeling all the time, this probably sounds silly, but it was a big shift for me! I even had a list of feelings in case I needed some help. You can find lots of these lists online. (Here is an extensive list I found on a marriage website -- no coincidence there, I'm thinking.)

Sometimes I pause and do a quick feeling inventory. What am I feeling right now? No judgment or analysis – just a neutral observation. No, maybe more positive than neutral. Just a quick howdy. Irritation, what’s up? Contentment, nice to see you. Anger, roaring like a lion, I see. Excitement, what fun. Sadness, let’s sit down.

Once we become acquainted with our feelings, then we can get to know them better and improve our relationship with them through good habits. But shaking hands is a good start. With a smile.


  1. Sometimes I think I feel too much. But I agree we must acknowledge our feelings.
    I look forward to hearing more about the good habits!

  2. PAMO--Yes, please stay tuned! Those of you on the intense feeling end of the scale might not relate to those of us who have spent more time living in our heads than in our hearts. In future posts I will talk about how to moderate our feelings. Think "middle way" of Buddhism!

  3. Hi Galen,
    This is excellent. I love how you encourage analysis of our feelings without judgement. I think this would help us to deal with the emotions in a healthy way. Thanks for all your great work Galen!

  4. I wish I had a therapist like yours when I started doing inner work. Yours sounds demanding...LOL...in a good way of course! But yes, I believe that this is a problem with most: suppressing our deeper emotions. The more we ask ourselves what we truly feel, the more we are able to work on these for release.

  5. I feel that we are never taught to feel our feelings. Not from my generation anyways. Big girls don't cry, children are to be seen and not heard, if you don't stop crying... etc. I too never used to connect with my feelings at all, I had to be taught how to do so and I was 41 years old at the time... YIKES. That's a lot of years to live vicariously through others. From this I became a people pleaser and a control freak, oh ya and add a perfectionist alcoholic to that and what a mess I was! I attribute the addiction in part to suppressed feelings, or to wanting to suppress feelings of negativity. Thank goodness today I know how I feel, I can process my feelings and through this critical thinking course I just completed I see that some of my thought processes were off, nothing that I can't fix but it all takes time. I've learned how to balance my analytical thought process with my emotional thoughts and feelings, life is amazing today... most days!

    Thank you for the reminder of where I once was and never ever want to return to! Enjoy your day.

  6. Can't remember how or where I found your blog, but all I know is it came to me at a time when I needed it.
    I believe the things we need have a way of finding us.

    When I am self aware or have a problem to solve, I may start searching for answers.

    But, there are times when I really enjoy reading words of comfort and encouragement when there is no immediate problem to be solved, or sense of panic. Drama as most people call it.

    Then when the moment hits, I have some strength if you will, to help me guide me, something to fall back on at a critical time.

    Your words have helped me to find some peace and answers and mostly direction lately.

    Thank you for being there for me.

  7. Smiling is so important, no matter where you are or going...and they are catchy! Give a smile get a smile!... My feelings at the moment, I'm kind of stressed ...computer work to master before an afternoon shift! Going home I shall remember your post and I'll be so excited for the drive home! Lovely post Galen thanks!.... and yes, I'm smiling.....!!! ;)

  8. It is always interesting to consider that although humans have transformed the exterior world through technology, we still have exactly the same set of emotions as our ice-age ancestors.

    I believe there's a gender component to this discussion as well. We American men are discouraged from and actually rewarded for NOT displaying feelings. It leads to many kinds of problems in marriages. Excellent topic, Galen.

  9. Dandy--Thanks for your comment. I really enjoyed your last post on anger, and especially your distinction between venting and expressing. I suspect I might borrow that sometime this month!

    Evelyn--Yes, my therapist was demanding, but then I was very stubborn (read afraid). Thanks for your comment.

    darlin--I hear you! I don't want to live like that again either. I related to so much of your description of what we were taught about feelings. Thank you so much for sharing your observations as well as your personal story.

    Sadgeatplay--I'm so pleased that you commented. Thank you. And I'm so humbly grateful if anything I've said has been helpful to you. I love your image "strength to help me guide me..." That's exactly what this blog is about. Joyful habits not only enhance our good times, but they also help sustain us during difficult times. They help us help ourselves. That is so powerful. Thank you.

    Karen--I'm smiling back atcha! Thanks for your comment.

    Mikey--There is definitely a gender component. Denial of feelings is most quickly associated with men. However, I've found that many women are taught to deny their true feelings. It might be more acceptable for a woman to cry (at least if you are not running for office), but many girls were taught to "present" themselves a certain way, just like boys. Thanks for bringing up this important perspective on this topic.

  10. @Invisable Mikey,
    Did you mean feelings lead to problems in marriage or lack of them leads to problems in marriage.
    Because what thought I read is feelings, that go unexpressed in a marriage can lead to many kinds of problems. Sometimes we read into things people say, and don't understand so we have to ask what someone meant, or we listen in a way that we want to hear something that was said.
    I have been doing this for a long time (31) years- sharing my feelings in a marriage. It is usually me who wants to share them, I think I have a need to... I find the lack of expressing them (when he doesn't), is the only real problem we have. Over expressing them and someone not understanding them creates other issues as well. But if what you said is the lack of them or being open with them, I cannot agree with you more. When my hubby expresses feelings, I respond with caring, compassion, and make an effort to understand his feelings. That is what creates connection and brings us closer. The gap widens without the feelings being shared. The Feelings are there, the reason they stay inside is because we don't know how to hold them in our hands and cherish them. How to make it safe to express them is the key. What works well is to do it, over and over and over again with someone you feel safe with. My dearest friend who cherished mine is gone now, so I have to share them with my hubby. He gets to make an attempt at holding them and sometimes he makes mistakes. Don't we all. But the good news is we get to learn from the mistakes that we are alike, and we both share something precious in our hands. After all these years, we still fumble about, men become softer with age, more understanding and patient, so it's good news for me. Your comment made me think, and caused me to care about someone more strongly and I thank you for that. Nice to see men sharing they're thoughts and feelings here in a safe place.

  11. I offered a whole semester's class on feeling to my nursing students...because when one is unaware of their feelings - they can transfer those feelings onto someone who is trying to heal and interfere with recovery.
    I absorb others emotions, so sometimes I just have to shut down when I am out in public - I get better with age.
    Emotions are there for a reason and they are the foundation of nearly every action and reaction that we have - mediation with out emotions is worthless and does not resolve
    Great Start point - thank you look forward to the whole month.

  12. Sadgeatplay--Thanks for your follow up comment to Mikey.

    Patricia--A class on feeling! I would like to know more about that if you care to share.

  13. Sorry to be so wordy, it just spoke to me, and i felt moved to share.

    To Patricia...I am the same way and I think I should have gone into nursing. I try to be there for others when I see a need. I have decided a day with out that connection is not as good as a day with it. Absorbing others emotions can be very therapeutic for me. But when the time is over, I unload by breathing fresh air, and shedding some tears. The emotion waits for time alone to let down and release. Would love to hear more about your class on feeling.
    thanks for the sharing that.
    Hope its okay to converse back---you have opened some windows and the fresh air is coming in.

  14. Hi Galen,

    Well said! Suppressing what we feel is not a good way to live. I have learned from painful experience that it is better to acknowledge and manage how we feel in a more productive way. I believe that being INFJ has put me more in touch with my feelings. I also think that what you do by making a neutral observation of how you feel helps to be more aware of what you feel. This is an important step forward in managing your feelings.

    It also helps to know the source of what you feel, why you feel this way and what you can do about it. If there is something you can do, do it. If not, let the feelings flow through the natural process. It is better to flow with the river than to resist it. In time, it will complete its course.

    I never really learned to manage my feelings well when I was younger. It could also be due to Western thinking and a reliance on logic. Or it could be a typical Asian household where feelings are not readily discussed. It was not until I read eastern philosophies that I learned more about the intricacies of feelings. So I am not surprised that Thai people are much more self-aware of feelings in themselves and others.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  15. Sadgeatplay--You are welcome to converse with other commenters. Thank you for sharing more of your thoughts.

    Irving--Interesting observation about Asian households. Thank you for your comment.

  16. Good morning Galen Pearl....This post on feeling was "right on". As a recovering alcoholic....feelings were always the enemy in the corner. I obviously would self-medicate to avoid them. Through therapy and my recovery process...these last 27 years or so....I have finally become a "human being....instead of a human doing". I'm so very grateful for this growth as it has enabled me to navigate this wonderful life of mine with the grace that has so graciously been given me.




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