On Feelings

I make a distinction between thinking and feeling. I think with my HEAD, and I feel with my heart, my gut, my back, my BODY. Most people live up in their head, I know I was real comfortable there, and I stayed there most of the time. In America, we get rewarded for our thinking from the moment we are asked questions in Kindergarten. The reward for thinking continues when we get jobs. Our ability to feel not only hardly ever gets rewarded, but it often gets squashed.

We are born with the ability to feel mostly all feelings. Babies can look happy, sad, scared, and angry. But we are not born with the words to describe feelings. Here are some words. These words are referred to as "feeling lists." I will give you three lists, short, medium and long:

First, the Short list. This list really works well; most of what we feel is generally one of these, or a combination of these:

Small Feelings List

Next, the Long list. This list gives you a lot of information. Unfortunately, this information goes into your head. But use it to get familiar with the range of available feelings. Please, try to identify these feelings at a "real" level, not on an intellectual level.

Large Feelings List

That’s a lot of words, isn’t it? Now, one is tempted to start thinking about the meanings and groupings, but don’t. Feelings are simply felt. They ARE.

Do the "Glad words" represent good feelings, and do the other words represent bad feelings? No, anger is normal, healthy and protective of ourselves and our safety. Sadness, too, is normal, healthy and allows us to fully experience life and appreciate the joyous moments. Shame teaches us we are not the rulers of the universe, that we are human and fallible. And so it goes, feelings are neither good nor bad. They are what we ARE.

Finally, the Medium list. This is the list on the wall of my office, labeled "Core Feelings." If I ask a client what they are feeling, and they say I don’t know, I point to this list. People usually think they are the only ones who have trouble naming their feelings.

What do you notice? Connectedness is not a word, I made it up (but I have since seen and heard it). It is the opposite of "alone" and reflects the feelings we get when we are truly connected to someone, or something. And, also, I split shame and guilt into two core feelings. Guilt is about breaking rules, shame is about not being OK. For example, "Yesterday, I stole a candy bar. I feel bad about that." That is guilt. As opposed to, "Yesterday I stole a candy bar. I am a no good person." That is shame. People walk around with a lot of shame, and a lot of the shame is "unfaced," or unacknowledged.

Lastly, it has been said (to really simplify things) that there are truly only two core feelings: Love and Fear.