Jump to the following topics:
- What are feelings?
- Feeling is a process.
- Emotions are not the same as feelings.
- Feelings are a message from ourselves to ourselves.
- Feelings help us to live in this world.
- There are no "negative" feelings.
What are feelings? They are a means by which our intuition relays information to us regarding inner and outer circumstances (e.g., a psychological conflict, or a person or situation). When we are "feeling," we are resonating to one or more traits of something inside of us or outside of us; this resonance is like the phenomenon which occurs when our eardrums vibrate with the sound waves which are striking them. We interpret this empathic resonance into what we call "feelings," which we develop further into our responses, likes and dislikes, values, and guidance. However, when we say that someone "hurt our feelings," it was not our feelings which were hurt; the feelings merely notified us of an injury which occurred elsewhere within the psyche.
Feeling is a process. This process has various stages:
- The empathic resonance. "I feel something about this place."
- Our interpretation of this resonance. "I feel uncomfortable here." We are experiencing a disharmony, as in a discordant musical chord. Onto this interpretation -- "I feel uncomfortable here" -- we might add a further evaluation: "Therefore, I do not like this place."
- Our sense of the proper course of action based on this interpretation. We venture that a particular different circumstance would create a resonance with which we would be comfortable. "I feel that I should leave, and go home"; in other words, we would "feel better" at home.
- A re-checking of the empathic resonance. This is a reiteration of step #1. After we have completed the course of action (i.e., we are now at home), we examine our feelings again, to take a reading on our new situation.
- Our interpretation of the new resonance, and our evaluation of the success of our action. "I feel that I did the right thing." This is a repeat of step #2; now that we are in the new circumstance which was recommended by our feelings, our current feelings indicate a state of harmony with our inner and outer world. This harmony is interpreted as an experience of comfort, contentment, happiness, and fulfillment -- and it is further interpreted as a reward for having obeyed our feelings. The harmony is not always a state of peace; sometimes our feelings lead us into a necessary confrontation with a person or situation but at the center of the hurricane, we have a deep sense that we are doing the right thing, and that we are in compliance with a purpose which transcends our conflicts.
Emotions are not the same as feelings.
- Feelings exist only in the current moment (as responses to present circumstances). Emotions linger; we require time to gear down from them, particularly in the emotions' physiological correlates (e.g., muscle tension, biochemicals such as adrenaline, and the changes in heartbeat and respiration). The emotions remain even longer (perhaps for years) if they become associated with archetypal-field constellations (i.e., "complexes").
- Feelings are subtle and light; we have to "listen" for them. Emotions are blatant (even disruptive) in our psyche, and they are even more obvious because of the physiological effects which were mentioned previously.
- Feelings do not release energy; they are a simple activity. In emotions, one of the most pronounced features is the release of energy which is to be used for "fight or flight" or another physical act.
- Feelings are simple resonance; it is only in our interpretation and judgment of them that we separate them into "good feelings" or "bad feelings" or another type of feelings. The basic emotions of fear, anger, and love are distinct in their own right, each with its characteristic psychological response and physiological correlates; i.e., the body and mind behave differently for each one.
- Feelings deal with information; they give it to us. Emotions deal with action; they prepare us for it. Emotions impel us toward an activity (e.g., crying or defending ourselves), and they gear us up for that activity, but (unlike feelings) they don't tell us what to do; for example, anger fortifies us for self-defense, but it doesn't tell us how to defend ourselves, whereas our feelings might tell us, "I feel like resolving this issue" or "I feel that walking away him is my best course."
Feelings are a message from ourselves to ourselves. They tell us whether we are on track; we feel contentment when we are getting what we need, and we feel discomfort when our feelings are warning us of an unfulfillment. Feelings guide us in decision-making and they confirm the correctness of our choices by the pleasure which we experience. And when we achieve an overview of our general feeling activity, we learn who we are as people; to an extent, we define ourselves by "what we like, and what we like to do" as determined by our feelings. As Carl Jung said, "Everything that irritates us [or pleases us] about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." (My comment is in brackets.)
Feelings help us to live in this world. Like all other inborn parts of our humanity, feelings are part of a survival mechanism; feelings alert us to dangers and excesses and deficits. Because survival is important in more than just the biological realm, our feelings respond to stimuli on all levels, from food and sex through the highest planes of art and aesthetics. A psychologically healthy person responds with feeling to everything which is encountered.
There are no "negative" feelings. The conflict between feelings and intellect occurs not only when we deny feelings altogether, but also when we judge particular feelings to be "bad," e.g., "I should not feel uncomfortable around her." Feelings are simply our response to someone or something. If we react "negatively" -- with aversion or repulsion -- the feelings are not at fault; they are innocently reporting their perception, and then we have added a further response of aversion or repulsion or, contrarily, attraction or desire. If we accept our feelings as valuable input, we attend to each one, and we don't condemn them and try to squelch them when they tell us that something is causing discomfort.