Check out this conversation with Dr. Deborah Sandella, author of Goodbye, Hurt & Pain, about identifying and addressing feelings.
You say you don’t need to “talk about your feelings.” Isn’t this the way most people deal with feelings? How can this be?
Talking about our feelings has been the primary way of dealing with feelings in the past. However, neuroscience has revealed more recently that feelings are a body experience rather than a thinking process. In other words, the body speaks to us through the direct experience of senses, imagery and symbolism instead of Left Brain logical, verbal communication. Although talking about our feelings can connect us with others, it does not release intense emotion stuck in the body; thus, feelings linger out of sight and sabotage our success without us realizing it.
If we don’t need to talk about our feelings, what do we do with them?
Feelings have a natural shelf life when we allow them to flow, much like the water in a river. Feelings occur spontaneously and have a natural momentum, which when allowed, gives us important self-direction before they expire. The problem occurs when we try to stop unpleasant feelings by ignoring, resisting and burying them. It’s like creating a dam in the river, which causes these emotions we want gone to eddy in our bodies indefinitely. The secret is to create floodgates that allow the release of feelings in a safe way without the risk of flooding.
What does it mean when you say feelings have form?
Because feelings are invisible they seem overwhelming—they have no boundaries. Imagination however can translate feelings into form. When “anger” is sensed as a small, red ball of hot energy, the Left Brain becomes engaged in managing and measuring the “anger.” Now the logical Left Brain and emotional Right Brain become partners to solve a problem. It works quite easily and quickly.
What’s a simple thing we can do when we are stuck in a negative feeling?
I call it the “Pouring Feelings From the Pitcher” technique. Write on paper whatever comes into your mind so you are able to fully express yourself without fear of hurting another or having them retaliate. Keep writing until you feel something inside you shift. Our feelings are not us, they are transient states passing through us. When we allow them to flow in a safe way, we gain clarity about an issue and our choices.
What would you say is the most important thing we can teach our children about feelings?
Feelings are natural, spontaneous aspects of our inner radar. They aren’t good or bad; rather, they are constant feedback from our inner emotional operating system. Receiving and recognizing our emotions is a great gift that helps us gain insight and a sense of wise direction even when our feelings are uncomfortable like anger and jealousy. Rather than assume they are true or false, it’s most beneficial to perceive feelings as constant input. Some are accurate and some are distorted. Investigating what’s true and what can be learned about ourselves results in wisdom and self-trust.
Teaching children how to identify their feelings without judging them will help them be emotionally healthy and self-motivated. Letting go of our criticism of undesirable feelings is important for our natural emotional operating system to function adequately. When parents try to guilt their child out of ugly feelings, they give the message that the child can’t trust their inner radar. Feelings engage a process not a conclusion.
Dr. Deborah Sandella has been helping thousands of people find themselves for 40 years as an award-winning psychotherapist, university professor, and originator of the groundbreaking RIM Method. She has been acknowledged with numerous professional awards including Outstanding Clinical Specialist, Research Excellence, and an EVVY Best Personal Growth Book Award. She is the co-author with Jack Canfield of Awakening Power.