Feelings Can Be Complicated
Often we have mixed feelings—we feel two or more things at the same time. For example, you may worry that a disagreement with your partner is impossible to resolve, feel hurt and irritated at yourself or your partner, and feel shame that you have failed to find a resolution—simultaneously.
You may focus on only one dimension of the energy (feeling) in your body, ignoring the other feelings. For example, focusing only on frustration, you may miss feelings of hurt and worry.
One feeling can be converted to another. A person who is taught to not feel anger may convert feelings of anger to shame. A person who is taught that anger is okay but fear isn’t may feel angry when afraid or threatened.
Feelings Are Useful
People tend to think of feelings as positive or negative depending on whether they agitate (like fear, anger, and guilt) or encourage (like plea-sure, joy, contentment, and satisfaction). Our approach to understanding feelings is to think of them as guides, or loyal friends, trying to get your attention so you’ll consider factors other than logic in your response to a situation. Feelings try to help you respond to different situations. Every feeling is good in terms of its purpose to serve you, protect you, and guide you. Your feelings of fer honest information. Listening for feelings is an important skill. Considering them offers you more data to incorporate into your choices about action (behavior).
Exercise: Listening for Your Feelings
Alone, provide yourself a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. Focus your attention on relaxing your body until you feel calm, centered, and comfortable. Then imagine that you are a miniature explorer traveling around inside your body, searching for different energies or feelings.
- Where in your body do you experience joyful feelings? In your face, eyes, mouth? In your chest or legs?
- Where in your body do you experience feelings of anxiety or fear? In your stomach? In your chest? In your cold hands?
- Where in your body do you experience anger? In your hot cheeks or ears? In your throat or neck? In your stomach?
- Where in your body do you experience feelings of sadness? Where in your body do you experience feelings of confusion, indecisiveness, ambivalence?
- Where in your body do you experience feelings of sensuality and sexual desire?
- Write down what you observe. Be specific about each feeling’s “location” in your body. What are you learning?
Are You Free to Feel?
Your feelings are valuable sources of personal information, but don’t let them run your life. It is not always a good idea to act on them—especially impulsive sexual feelings. Whether and how to act are ethical choices that you need to make. For example, a feeling of anger offers personal information to you about your situation, usually one in which you feel frustrated, treated unfairly, misinterpreted, hurt, threatened, or blocked. These feelings get your attention by agitating your body so you recognize the problem. What you do with this information is the issue.
The guiding principle is to accept your feelings and judge your behaviors. When you make this distinction between feelings and behaviors, you are free to feel. You can feel frustration and choose not to express this feeling to your partner. Rather, you can choose a more positive course by pausing to calm your body (feelings) and then asking your partner for a few moments to cooperatively discuss the matter. You want to learn from your feelings but not let them dictate to you. You want to listen to your feelings, consider their counsel, and then decide how to respond in a constructive, effective fashion. Integrating your feelings and reason gives you a more complete picture of your life, relationship, and sexuality.