The Reality of Feelings: A Friend’s Provocation
I had someone recently say to me, “My feelings aren’t real; they are just a way of dealing with life.” While I partially understood what they were trying to say, this statement didn’t sit well with me. It got me pondering on the nature of feelings, their impact, and how to reconcile with my friend’s statement, “Feelings aren’t real.”
Defining Feelings: Beyond the Emotions
So, what are feelings? Feelings are the result of experienced emotions. According to the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology, feelings are a “self-contained phenomenal experience” that is “subjective, evaluative, and independent of the sensations, thoughts, or images evoking them”. The distinction between feelings and emotions, which are often interchanged, becomes crucial here. Feelings differ from emotions in being purely mental, whereas emotions are designed to engage with the world.
The Physicality of the Mental: Are Feelings Real?
Purely mental. That notion resonated with me. Even though feelings may be “self-contained” and purely mental, they undeniably produce real impacts on the one experiencing them. Consider the experience of giving a speech in front of an audience. The sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, dry mouth – aren’t these real psychological responses indicative of the reality of feelings?
Seeking Truth in Feelings: A Shift in Perspective
In grappling with the reality of feelings, a more enlightening question emerged: “Are feelings true?”. The research I delved into, including the work of J. Panksepp (2003), affirms the reality of feelings, describing them as “the dynamic component in emotion”. However, recognizing that our very real feelings aren’t necessarily a representation of what is “true” introduces an essential shift in perspective. In essence, feelings are not facts.
The Utility of Feelings: Navigating Responses
This realization leads to contemplation on the utility of feelings. If they aren’t necessarily representing what is “true”, what purpose do they serve? And how should we respond to them? Understanding the role and responding to feelings, despite their subjective nature, becomes a pivotal aspect of our emotional journey.
The Wisdom in Feelings: Decoding Messages
Diving further into the essence of feelings, it becomes apparent that feelings, regardless of their transient nature, carry wisdom. They serve as a form of internal communication, whispering – sometimes shouting – messages from the depth of our subconscious. Deciphering these messages can be akin to learning a new language, one where each emotion has its unique dialect, tone, and texture. The challenge, then, is not to dismiss feelings but to listen intently, to understand their origin, and to uncover the truth they hold within.
Embracing the Spectrum: The Good, The Bad, and The Uncomfortable
Feelings come in a myriad of shades – joy, sorrow, anger, contentment, and everything in between. Embracing this entire spectrum is vital for a well-rounded and enriched life experience. Avoiding discomfort or chasing perpetual happiness can leave us unbalanced and detached from the multifaceted nature of our existence. Recognizing the value in each feeling, the uncomfortable ones included, is the first step towards harmonizing our internal world.
Practical Strategies: Nurturing Emotional Intelligence
Equipped with a deeper understanding of feelings, the quest for practical strategies to nurture emotional intelligence becomes paramount. Developing a heightened sense of self-awareness, practicing mindfulness, and cultivating empathy are foundational pillars. These practices enable us to tune in to our emotional frequency, respond with wisdom to the messages conveyed, and foster connections rooted in authentic emotional exchanges.
Reflection and Growth: Learning from Our Emotional Landscape
Each encounter with our feelings, be it a fleeting moment of joy or a lingering shadow of doubt, is an opportunity for reflection and growth. By pausing to examine the contours of our emotional landscape, we unearth insights about our desires, fears, and values. This ongoing dialogue with ourselves, coupled with the lessons gleaned from each emotional episode, paves the way for a deeper understanding and a more authentic and fulfilled life.
Conclusion: Harmonizing the Inner Symphony
In the grand symphony of life, feelings compose the melodies and harmonies that resonate within our inner chambers. Learning to conduct this symphony, to harmonize the diverse and sometimes discordant tunes, is a lifelong journey. By acknowledging the reality and truth within our feelings, embracing their spectrum, and cultivating emotional wisdom, we become the maestros of our inner music, creating a masterpiece that is uniquely our own.
Panksepp J. Damasio’s error? Conscious. Emot. 2003a;4:111–134.