Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More
“Our thoughts create the context which determines our feelings.”
-Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness
A healthy feeling life, including as expressed in healthy relationships, is a defining characteristic of psychologically healthy people. Beyond knowing and living the realistic purposes of feelings, I suggest these individuals harmoniously work with their feelings in a six-stage process that simultaneously helps our minds get out of the way.
Listen and recognize: You begin to attend to your body and notice a feeling stirring from within. Your heart and guts are open to experience this bodily feedback as you focus attention on this bodily feedback. Without resistance and setting aside any past assumptions, interpretations and evaluations, you consciously listen inside, putting the cues and clues together to form a credible picture of what feelings are being sent you. Naming the feeling feedback is now available and can be helpful in making feeling sense of them. Realizing that you may be having several different feelings that don’t exactly mesh well or are incongruent—mixed feelings—you identify each one for just what it is. This process takes some time since feelings are biochemical, that is, usually slow.
Sheer acceptance with an affirmative attitude: You consciously acknowledge feeling exactly as you do. You face and allow all that arises to be exactly as it is. You bring your awareness to notice any resistance, dismissal, rationalization, avoidance, denial or trying to change it, and choose to accept this urge or movement as well as consciously surrender it as blocking sheer acceptance of feelings. You can now bring an intention and readiness to meet, welcome and engage with these feelings. An affirmative attitude is present in knowing that this healthy feeling processing powerfully supports growth and development. The acceptance of any feelings is a tolerance for bearing this affect within you. The capacity for “affect tolerance” is at the heart of welcoming all your body is feeling within an affirmative, growth-oriented attitude. Sheer acceptance and befriending of feelings is seeing the feeling you feel is a here-and-now experience and giving it acknowledgement for simply being present exactly as it innocently, pristinely is.
A present-tense intention and vision to fully feel, constructively express and receive all the messages within these feelings as you engage in this processing: You bring a clear-eyed commitment to healthy feeling processing, consciously choosing to allow these feelings to move, vibrate and percolate all the way through you. You bring an intention to be, feel and constructively express whatever you feel through your body to a natural completion. You “take the stand” to helpfully release the bodily energy and distill the communication within this feeling experiencing, all without turning this into an agenda, position, belief, story, role, identity, action plan or willful goal. Curiosity and excitement regularly are present in this process.
Feeling, expression and resonation of the feeling: You actively feel and express whatever you feel to what degree you are willing and capable, and it is fitting and productive. Engaging channels for processing through feelings include physical and creative activities as well as interpersonal and spiritual connection. You are willing to stay within this process, and even return to it later, until there is little or no emotional charge or feeling energy on it. When there is no longer any energy on the feeling you know that it has come to a natural completion. You are riding inside gently resonating with these feelings, much like a surfer deftly rides a wave. The emotional waves break, sometimes several times, and dissipate until there is nothing left.
Observe any unhelpful influence by your conditioned mind in converting a feeling into a mood or emotion through your ego getting stuck in feeding the feeling with thoughts, beliefs and narrative stories. You consciously let go of any emotionally triggering “hot thoughts,” like “I was cheated, how unfair” and “How stupid” as well as “Now my life is complete” and “I’ve got the world by the tail” because each will only fuel the emotional fires you wish to complete and naturally dissolve. If this occurs, then acknowledge this being here; notice when and under what conditions you experienced this mood or emotion before, and willingly release and surrender it and let it go over and over and over again.
Deepening acceptance, releasing emotional energy and triggering thoughts: You actively bring your attention and awareness to reflecting and contemplating upon the feeling experience as you observe as any remaining emotional charge and gratefully let go. How this experience occurs for people is often in a deepening calmness, relaxation and empathy of what the underlying feeling was honestly communicating. Feelings as registered in bodies speak directly and literally to us. It is for us to be with, befriend, “stand under” and honestly decode their messages. We most accurately receive any feeling communication when we are open, willing and receptive to pause, then listen, reflect and intuit the inherent messages inside this bodily feedback.
Broadening emotional growth, compassionate understanding and maturity comes with seeing feelings in context and with perspective: At this stage the feeling or emotion is relatively complete in terms of emotional vibration, resonance and expression. Possibly you have uplifted an emotion into an ennobling sentiment by an opening of your heart in genuine compassion, kindness and wisdom. Possibly you have seen through misunderstandings and taking anything personally in those circumstances to open up an inner space for discernment and self-compassion.
Awareness itself, coming through processing feelings to completion, is transformative, curative and healing. This may show up as a turning of hesitant anxiety into assertive courage, churning resentful anger into deepening acceptance and feeling with another’s suffering, rash impulsivity into restraint and thoughtful moderation. Our feelings and our ways of thinking of them are now present in Truth and wisdom within us. You can reflect upon the journey and glean the emotional growth and understanding, the seeds of truth inside this experience.
Processing feelings in context or with perspective is to “stand under” the feeling experience within the specific context it appears in. Now you can begin to notice all the depth and breadth of purposefulness in the feeling communication. This is further broadened from your primary relationship, family and work to similar patterns in your trans-generational family, community, country and world. Without a context, everything gets distorted, jumbled and misperceived; in a multi-layered context or perspective, everything is connected in a clarity of seeing and a direction that is now self-evident. The growth opportunity is more fully realized when the feeling messages are seen in ever larger social contexts, taken into engaged social action and activism, and offered as a human gift and spiritual support by being of loving service and genuine help to others.