Feelings!? Anything but feelings!

I’ve decided that today is a feelings day.  I’m quite over tired due to a poor night’s sleep, and sometimes when that happens I find that my feelings flow much more freely.  Fatigue seems to break down whatever natural filters I have on my stronger emotions, and this means that I’m crying over videos of cute puppies, crying over spilt milk, and sometimes crying for no reason at all.

In recent years I’ve learned to just go with it.  In fact, one of my big lessons when I was training to be a Spiritual Counselor was to discover that I had built up some pretty big defenses around my heart in order to prevent myself from being overcome with emotion.  However, this also prevented me from feeling good things, and from being as open-hearted as I needed to be in my counseling relationships.  So some of those barriers had to come down (slowly, and sometimes painfully) and now I’ve learned to listen to my emotionality when it wells up from nowhere, rather than trying to stuff it back down*.

It helps that I’ve become more feelings literate over the past few years.  One of my favorite feelings “tools” is Nonviolent Communication (or NVC).  NVC is a wonderful resource, both for learning about feelings and for learning how to communicate effectively.  NVC invites the individual to become familiar with the broad spectrum of their feelings and to identify the potential “needs” responsible for those feelings.   NVC helps plan strategies for communicating well with others, but perhaps more importantly, it helps you learn how to be in relationship with the people you care about in such a way that both their needs and your needs are valued and shared.

If you want to know more about Nonviolent Communication you can check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication here (www.cnvc.org).

I also love these “feelings” and “needs” lists (www.cnvc.org/Training/feelings-inventory and www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory) because they help me become more aware of my inner landscape.  The more familiar I become with my own experience, the more and sensitive I am to other people’s feelings.

As I peruse these lists this morning I find that the feelings that stand out to me are:

Mellow, Quiet, Engrossed, Safe, Still, Wonder, Weary, Agitated, Sensitive, Wistful, and Impatient.  

When I consult the “needs” list I find that, aside from “rest”, I’m also resonating with:

Air, Companionship, Empathy, Beauty, and Discovery.

It always surprises me to find such a complexity of feeling and yearning in myself.  Since I was planning to go for a hike this afternoon with my Father it seems as though I’m already pretty in tune with my needs today.  A hike will hopefully satisfy my need for beauty and discovery, spending time with my Father will satisfy my need for companionship and empathy, and the fresh air will go along way towards clearing that mind-fog that always accompanies a poor night’s sleep.

In summation – feelings aren’t bad or good, they’re simply a tool to let you know how you’re doing.  Yes, we may be high maintenance sometimes, but the more familiar we become with our feelings the less they will run riot over our lives, and the more effective we will be in meeting our needs and finding a happy equilibrium.

“Feelings demand to be noticed, and healthy people know what they feel, accept those feelings, are able to choose how to act in the light of those feelings.” (Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet, p. 35)

“Self-empathy in NVC means checking in with your own feelings and needs.” (Marshall Rosenburg, NVC)

“When we hear the other person’s feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity.” (Marshall Rosenburg, NVC)

“Our ability to offer empathy can allow us to stay vulnerable, defuse potential violence, help us hear the word ‘no’ without taking it as a rejection, revive lifeless conversation, and even hear the feelings and needs expressed through silence.” (Marshall Rosenburg, NVC)

Good luck!


*What helped this process along was learning how to handle big emotions in my body.  It’s hard to open to strong emotions if they are going to overwhelm you and dominate your life.  It took a number of years for me to learn how to “digest” my emotionality and then release it, in a similar manner to how we chew, digest, and then release our food.  If you dislike being overwhelmed by your feelings, but also find that stuffing them down isn’t working anymore, don’t panic.  Go find a good counselor and ask for some tools to gently start processing your feelings.

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