How to Get In Touch With Your Feelings
Feelings we haven’t got a handle on wreak havoc on our work. They force themselves forward in troubling, furious and depressed ways. They buckle and strain the system. We develop pernicious ticks; a facial twitch, impotence, alcoholism, a porn compulsion - all of which can affect our performance at work. Most so called addictions are at heart symptoms of insistent difficult feelings that we haven’t found a way to address. How then might we come to be better observers and correspondents of our feelings?
In order to know how to spot the feelings that are flying across the hemisphere of consciousness, we rely on having a good inner manual rich with entries about possible phenomena. A major task of literature is to help us fill this inner manual. A great novelist can walk us through a range of elusive tricky sensations in his or her fictional characters, thereby making it easier to acknowledge these in ourselves. The writer is, ideally, someone uncommonly patient about the curious, less discussed, apparently weirder things that float around in the human head. An important work of literature is like a new entry in mankind’s dictionary of feelings. A great book can give us the eerie, beautiful sensation of knowing us better than we have hitherto known ourselves.
Another move is to ensure that we have allocated a lot of time to self-observation. It can look rather self-indulgent to ask for a few hours in the evening in which there is nothing more apparently demanding to do than to sit and stare out of the window or around the bedroom, with a pad and pen on one’s lap. These so-called idle moments are when the observing self can finally catch up with feelings that might have been too shy, ashamed, or harassed to emerge in the rest of the day. They are like church bells we can make out only in the evening, when the city traffic has died down. Failing to do this can – among other problems – ruin our chances of sleep. Insomnia is the feeling self’s revenge for all the thoughts that haven’t been properly catalogued in the day.
It can help too to surround ourselves with people who will help us in our search to identify and catalogue our feelings correctly. They are the ones we call the good listeners. Part of coming to know how we feel is having an audience that can be receptive to the truth about us. In the company of open-minded people, we circulate more freely in our own minds. We remember thoughts that the censoriousness or boredom of other companions had blocked. We become more receptive to ourselves.
Understanding the danger of a gap opening up between what we feel and what we’re aware of brings another major benefit. We start to see others as beset by the very same problem that we’ve begun to recognise we have to deal with. Quite often they’ll be saying things which are not in fact in line with their true feelings – mean things when they are feeling vulnerable perhaps, or arrogant things when they are feeling small – and we’ll identify that it is charitable to forgive them for not always managing to be reliable correspondents of their inner lives. It’s not really sinister to think this way of others, it’s a kindly move that gives us the energy to lend a second, more compassionate look at behaviour that might initially have appeared simply horribly off-putting.
Feelings are frequently far from wonderful and often should not be followed. But we should accept that if we ignore, deny or overlook them entirely, the price will always be higher and worse: they will exercise a powerful malign subterranean influence across the whole of our lives. One of the too-often overlooked, but key arts of living is to learn to devote ourselves to correctly labelling and repatriating our own and others’ orphaned feelings.
Discover more tips for self-understanding in our class on Self Awareness.
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