With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I am reminded about the ongoing debate about the emotional lives of men and women. As far back as I can remember, the views that have been expressed typically focus on vast differences between the sexes, suggesting that men and women have about as much in common with each other in terms of their feeling lives as a cockroach has with a collie. Indeed, so far apart are the sexes on matters of the heart that, according to author and relationship counselor John Gray, they each must have landed here from different planets—men hail from Mars, women are apparently more at home on Venus.
Of course there are real, tangible differences between the sexes to be sure. But when we speak about something as intangible as the human emotional response, it seems difficult to distinguish nature from nurture—it’s one of those chicken or the egg kind of quandaries as far as I’m concerned. After working for 35 years with the intimate lives of both sexes, I can only conclude that being human is not an easy thing. All human beings struggle with their feelings. People who take a greater interest in this struggle tend to be the ones who reap rewards in the form of greater self-knowledge, along with a heightened sense of meaning and connection.
Feelings connect us to ourselves and to the outside world.
To the degree that modern life has encouraged everyone to separate from their feelings, we have all lost a valuable resource for navigating the challenges of being human. Our feelings are our connection to the natural world, to ourselves—especially our bodies—and to each other. If we are disengaged from our emotional core, we are not fully alive—we can only go through the motions of living.
We carry out our roles at work and at home without actually connecting with the people we are with or the tasks we perform. Over time, this state of disconnection starts to seem so normal that we are not even aware of how diminished our existence has become.
Feelings energize the body with sensation.
We long to feel alive, yet we also fear the intensity and disruption that our feeling life incurs. Emotions are different from thoughts in that they do not necessarily speak to us in the neat and tidy vocabulary of words; rather, they communicate through our bodies as visceral movements of energy and sensation. For example, queasiness in the stomach is most commonly associated with anxiety; tingling in the chest signals excitement.
It can become especially confusing when several streams of emotional energy send different messages simultaneously. When we experience a flood of conflicting emotions, direct contact with our emotional life can seem as scary and disorienting as suddenly finding ourselves lost on the high seas without a map or compass.
Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
One thing that can help us restore trust in our feeling life is understanding that there is no such thing as a good or bad feeling. Human beings are capable of a full range of emotional responses for important reasons. All emotions have both a positive and a negative pole. For example, we can agree that love, confidence, and hope are good feelings. When the buoyancy of our love for someone is combined with the expansive energy of hope for a better future, and when both of these feelings are grounded in the self-confidence to surmount obstacles, a powerful groundswell of energy is available to help a relationship thrive amidst the most challenging circumstances.
But the opposite can also be true: love does not always overcome difficulty. For example, blindly loving someone who is self-destructive or abusive can be dangerous if this feeling is not tempered by feelings of fear, resentment, and hopelessness. In such cases, the energy of these so-called “bad feelings” is nature’s way of warning us to get help or get out. Relentless hopefulness in the face of a truly hopeless situation can make it impossible for us to protect ourselves. Paradoxically, admitting that we are angry and powerless over another person’s behavior (even if we do love them) can empower us to take appropriate action. There are many times in life when paying attention to emotions we commonly think of as a “negative” can bring about a positive result.
Emotional intelligence can be learned.
Most of us try to navigate the complications of living using a small fraction of our emotional capacity. We over-schedule our days and juggle the daily demands of living with little awareness of the incredible richness that is available to us from our inner lives.
We each have a unique perception of the world based on our personal history and genetic predisposition. But there are also shared reactions and feelings. By learning more about these universal responses, and with a little willingness to get acquainted with your own inner life, it is not so difficult to decipher the language of feelings.
Curious? Intrigued? Do you long to feel more connected?
Discover the language of your feelings. Contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to learn how Body-Centered Healing can develop your capacity for intimacy while strengthening communication skills.