Feelings help us navigate the world with wisdom. Like antennae, they us find our best path forward.
As children, we are in touch with our genuine feelings. We begin life united inside, our hearts and minds working harmoniously in all things.
But if our parents fear our feelings or don’t understand them, they can’t teach us how to use them as guidance. Instead we might be given words, logic, and pep talks, not comfort, when we are upset.
This interferes with our ability to get to the bottom of what our feelings are trying to tell us. Sometimes we might even get shaming, tough talk, or physical punishment if we express feelings that make our parents uncomfortable.
Fear of parental reactions can cause us to repress our feelings—making us overly cognitive and logical—or, conversely to spin anxiously into reactively intense emotions. We do need some logic and emotion, but logic can be an agent of repression, and reactive emotions can hide deeper feelings.
The best approach is to pay attention to our deeper feelings. Marc Bregman, the dream researcher, draws a distinction between real feelings and surface emotions. Emotions are like the roiling bubbles on top of boiling water while feelings are the underlying substance of the water itself.
Our deeper feelings tell us what’s healthy or depleting for us, but listening to inappropriate logic or wild emotion takes us away from these helpful instincts. Therapies that use logic effectively are really using logic to contain reactive emotions, not deeper feelings.
If you grew up with parents who had trouble relating to feelings, you may have been doused with words and logic when what you really needed was a shoulder to cry on. Such parents might tell you not to feel a certain way, to look at it differently, or even to see your feelings as unfounded or not making sense.
They may falsely teach you that stiffening yourself against your feelings makes you strong, when what it really does is make you uninformed about how things are really affecting you.
In adulthood, others may use inappropriate logic or old catchphrases to distance you from your feelings, leaving you doubtful about your reactions and intuitions. This can be very confusing because it suggests you can’t trust your feelings to tell you what is really going on in a situation.
These people may be trying to help, but it’s not a good idea to accept cold logic or stereotyped advice when your heart is trying to tell you to listen. In our modern world, words and logic are given much more weight than feelings, so it’s up to you to stand up for your deeper guidance.
Feelings are the only way to navigate the world with wisdom. Feelings are our antennae, helping us find our most rewarding paths forward. If we let others talk us out of our feelings, this beautiful, natural feeling-system becomes lost to us.
Worse, we may then teach our children to turn against their feelings too, giving them logic when they need love and unconditional presence instead.
What can we do to get this back? How can we give our children what we may not have had ourselves? First, we can realize that most of us have been erroneously taught to rate words and intellect as superior to feelings and feelings that “don’t make sense” should just go away.
We can also realize that we shouldn’t confuse our children with logic about what they should be feeling or shame them by telling them there’s no reason to feel that way.
Instead, we could teach our kids that feelings should be listened to as important messages about our immediate reality and we can use thought and logic later when we get to problem-solving.
For ourselves, we can practice telling the difference between the trustworthy guidance of deeper feelings and the chaotic reactions of our surface emotions.
If you honor your feelings’ messages, you will stop thinking of feelings as inferior and will start seeing reality as it is, rather than what you think it should be.
Once you trust that your feelings do make sense, that they are telling you something vital, you can make life choices that increase your liveliness and enjoyment. You’ll stop talking yourself out of your feelings and reserve your logic for problem-solving, where it belongs.
As soon as you realize that your deeper feelings let you see how situations are really affecting you, you’ll heed their messages. You’ll let your intelligence be informed by feeling, not tyrannized by logic.
Once that happens, your feelings and your thinking will again work synchronistically with each other, like two forces that can’t be kept apart. When you stop denying your feelings to satisfy other people’s logic, you’ll develop an unshakeable self-confidence. When you know what you feel, you’ll have a deeper security than anything logic could ever bring.