“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Having recently talked about the ups and downs of life and a week when we experienced what might be called extremes of feeling, this week we put feelings in the spotlight.

How are you feeling right at this very moment as you read this?

We all have feelings, they’re an intrinsic part of our human experience, but what are they and what purpose do they serve?

What is a feeling?

How do you describe what a feeling is?

  • Something to do with emotions – an emotional response
  • A physical manifestation of our emotions.
  • A notion about something.
  • A bodily reaction representing our immediate response to a situation – a gut instinct.

Dictionary definitions of a feeling include:

  • “An emotional state or reaction.”
  • “A strong emotion” – like ‘I love you’
  • “An idea or belief, especially a vague or irrational one.” E.g. ‘He had a feeling he was being watched.’

That’s what feelings are but what’s the point of feelings? Why do we have them?

Feelings have a purpose

First thing to recognise is that feelings do have a purpose. They are like a bodily alarm system, alerting us to dangers and opportunities in life.

We can respond to feelings in different ways:

  1. We can choose to act on our feelings,
  2. We can choose to observe them
  3. We can choose to ignore them

But to ignore them disregards a powerful tool in the changeability armoury. To discount our feelings removes some of the meaning from life, as feelings are powerful indicators of our bodily and mental emotions. Taken to extremes, totally repressing our feelings can lead to mental and physical problems.

Feeling skills

Being aware of our feelings, and how we respond or choose to express them, is a skill. A skill we’re not normally taught. But one we think can be taught and learnt, (we would say that wouldn’t we), and developed into a useful tool.

We all have instances when we haven’t dealt with our feelings in a helpful way.

  • It might be the way you deal with traffic jams (Kathryn!)
  • Or how you react when someone cuts you up on the road – is it with feelings of road rage or do you just shrug it off.
  • Someone says something unkind or insensitive and we respond with feelings of hurt, or lash out and retaliate badly.

One of the keys to developing the feeling skill is summed up in the phrase:

“You can’t choose how you feel, but you
can choose how you respond to how you feel.”

Recognising and owning your feelings

The first step is to recognise you’re having the feeling in the first place.

This involves getting in the habit of tuning in to what you are feeling and taking ownership of those feelings.

You can find clues in your speech.

‘I’ not ‘you’

We often express our own feelings by using the ‘you’ word. We might tell a friend,

“You know, you feel really upset when someone doesn’t listen to you properly.”

When what we actually mean is,

“I feel really upset when I’m not listened to properly.”

Such phrases appear like general statements but are really statements about the way we think and feel or the way we believe others should think.

Substitute ‘I’ to make it a statement of your feeling and you

  • Speak for yourself, not others, and take ownership of that feeling.
  • Make a connection with how you really feel – you recognise the feeling.
  • Don’t make generalisations based on what you think you should feel.

Mindfulness and feelings

Mindfulness can help us recognise and own our feelings.

“Mindfulness is the awareness, that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

One popular mindfulness meditation technique is the body scan, where you pay attention to sensations in your body as in your mind you progressively scan your body from the tip of your toes to the top of your head, becoming aware of the sensations in your body but without attaching labels to them.

You can use a similar process for recognising your feelings.

Bring your awareness to your breathing to make a connection with your body. Your body is where your feelings connect, it acts as a channel for your feelings and reflects them.

If you listen to episode 66 of the Changeability we talk you through this but if you want try it for yourself now start with a couple of breaths in and out and begin to observe your body.

What is your body telling you about your feeling right now?

Using the ‘I’ word say to yourself: “Right now, I am feeling …

You might have said tired, angry, irritated, annoyed, hungry, sleepy, alert, bored, energised – sad – or a completely different feeling of your own.

Typology of feelings

There is a huge range of words to express our feelings but broadly speaking they come under three wide categories of feeling:

  1. Physical feelings: These mostly relate to your body, e.g. thirsty, hungry, tired, warm, cold, etc.
  1. Emotions: These are the root of your feelings, covered by four basic categories of joy, anger, fear and sadness. Emotions can relate to both your body and state of mind.

How do you feel when you watch a really good horror movie? Perhaps a sense of fear, but one related to your body exhibiting characteristics like feeling on edge or a fast beating heart and heightened sense of awareness. After all eliciting feelings is a key driver of a film.

“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” Stanley Kubrick

  1. State of mind: These are more to do with your attitude towards the thing you’re thinking about. These are often more complex attitudes towards a situation, that give your life a higher purpose, such as a sense of fulfilment, motivation, inspiration, purpose and also a sense of the morality of a situation, e.g. a feeling of guilt, shame or responsibility.

Quantifying your feelings

Once you’ve identified, recognised and owned your feelings you can take it a step further by quantifying the strength of feeling using a simple process like red (for very strong) amber, green – or assign a number from 1-10.

Remember to focus on the whole range of feelings, not just the more negative ones we’re sometimes more aware of but also feeling happy, joyful, thankful, excited, exhilarated.

Episode 66 The Changeability Podcast

Listen to the episode 66 of the Changeability Podcast to hear us talking about all of this and more and join us next week to explore what we do next in ‘dealing with feeling’.