Why do we need feelings?


But, I just want to be happy!
The problem with feelings is that we all have all of them whether we want them or not.  But, along with sadness, anxiety, and jealousy, we also get: joy, pride, and love.  So, it can be agreed that feelings as a whole are not all bad, it just so happens that not all of them are pleasant to experience.  Basically if you want happy, you must have sad.  If you want joy, you must have suffering.  They all come together in one package of feelings, you either get all of them or you get the emptiness of none of them. Again, I did not invent the rules, but I can help you cope with the difficulties in managing and containing the feelings we all have.

What seems to happen when it comes to feelings is that different people have different problems with different feelings. For instance, one woman might hate to feel jealous but have a certain tolerance for regret or sadness.  The same might go for a man who feels comfortable getting angry but finds it intolerable to cry.  Basically, each of us has a spectacular individual symphony of feelings made up of all kinds of varying instruments. On top of that, making things even more complicated is the fact that we also have feelings about those feelings that we inevitably must have. Phew.

Why can't I just have good feelings?

What most people want is to get rid of the bad feeling they are experiencing.  "I don't want to feel sad anymore." "I don't want to feel anxious anymore." Well, here is the bad news: to have the good feelings, you have to have the bad feelings.  You cannot perform surgery on your psychology to remove that one pesky feeling that is the most unpleasant to you. Whether it is shame, frustration, jealousy, anger, sadness, or anxiety, we all have one or more that we could do without.  I didn't make the rules but it just doesn't work that way.

Why do I have such problems with certain feelings?

If you are asking this question, you are on track toward feeling better.  It is curiosity about your self and your feelings that leads to control and power over them.  If you do not run your feelings, your feelings will run you.  The resulting knowledge about your feelings, the information about when, why, and how they happen can help unlock a feeling of confidence and satisfaction in life. 

Yes, but why are certain feelings so much harder for certain people to cope with? 
How does a presidential candidate handle the anxiety of public speaking while another person faints?  This is a complicated question and in truth it has not been fully understood or explored by psychological researchers.  What we know now is that it is a combination of an individual's inborn temperament and their childhood experience.  Some babies, put simply, are born calm while others are born anxious. 

With respect to childhood, do you remember the first time you felt regret?  Well, you probably have some memory that comes to consciousness, but my guess is that you felt it once before you really knew what it was.  These first introductions to feelings occur constantly during early childhood, making up a great deal of social learning during the formative years.  Now, if the parent teaching you about your feelings has problems with one of their feelings, it can get passed on.  Thus, a mother who had issues with anxiety might produce offspring who have issues with anxiety.

The Good News

The good news is that we can become comfortable with all of our feelings.  We may not learn to like them, prefer them, or want them; but we can learn to tolerate and respect them.  In addition, tolerance to unpleasant feelings like anxiety, envy, and frustration can be built and practiced.  Just as a marathon runner will train their muscles to handle longer runs, so to can a person build endurance and tolerance to unpleasant emotions.  With this, comes the power and control over our feelings that most people are looking for

Sometimes we THINK too much about our feeling instead of just passively observing them and watching them wash over and wash away.  Many times this is the root of long-standing depression.  We start by feeling sad about something which is a normal human experience shared by nearly all people.  Then, we might think “This sadness will never go away.”  This is an example of the mind getting in the way of the normal feeling process.  This thought just makes us scared, which is another feeling, and that fear may make us feel inferior which is another feeling, and that inferiority may then in turn make us jealous of those who are not afraid/sad/inferior/jealous…you get the picture.  Then there is a runaway feeling cycle that feels endless, hopeless, and desperate.  Now, back to the original sadness, if on the other hand that sadness is permitted to wash over us with a non-judgmental, objective sense of “Hello sadness, here you are again, you are okay, not particularly enjoyable or likeable, but I hear that you are sad and that is okay.  Do your thing, I am watching, just let me know when you are through, so I can go back to my daily life.”  This does not mean avoiding, ignoring, or suppressing the sadness, but simply giving it the message that you are not afraid of it, that you know it will end, and that you respect its right to run the show for 1 minute, or 5 minutes, or 30 minutes depending on the intensity and trigger for the sadness.  It would take a super-human or a true yogi to separate and feel the list of emotions in the spiral I first described.  Trust me, slow things down and concentrate on what you think is the root feeling, and let it run its course, gently guiding it back to the root feeling when it tries to spread into neighboring feelings. 

To summarize this process, I use a quote from Victor Hugo “Lose your mind, and come to your senses.”  This means, push your thinking mind out of the way for a bit and let your body or your 5 senses to run the show for a bit.  So, with this in mind, generally people feel fear.  They might say, “But if I open these flood gates up, they will never close.” Wrong!  That is fear talking.  Using sadness as an example, it does not last forever.  Horrible things have happened to people since the beginning of time, and given time and active mourning/processing of feelings, they resolve.  Ignore them and they will get worse like an infection of the heart or soul, but actively work through, process, and grieve, and the person will feel better.  Another misconception is that all feelings will come out at once, for some this is a fear and for some this is a goal.  My answer to both of those questions is that it doesn’t work that way.  The body has a natural shut down of feelings after a time, that is why they call it bouts.