The Surprising Challenge Of Knowing How We Really Feel

This article explores why knowing our feelings can be more complicated and challenging than what on the surface it looks like. It looks at what stops us from knowing our true feelings and how by getting a better understanding of our feelings it allows us to live a more authentic and peaceful life.

There is a question we often asked ourselves and others that is more complicated than we often think. It is a question that has many layers and levels to it. It is a question that the answer can be both wrong and right at the same time .It is the question of “How do I feel?” directed to ourselves, or “How do you feel?” when directed at another.

Now to answer the question honestly when it come to some subjects is easy. Hammer a nail accidentally into your hand and the answer to how you feel is “in pain dummy” .It’s not too complicated. Yet as we broach this questions in areas more subtle and subjective, such as “How do you feel about your Father or ex-wife ?” we enter a more ambiguous sphere. Now knowing how we feel should be in theory easy, as feelings arise, we name them and communicate them. Yet the problem we encountered is doing this honestly is not easy after a life time of being entrained to deny or covering up the truth of how we feel.

We learn very early on in life that being honest with our feelings will not always get us the love, approval or reward we are hardwired into seeking. Young children, as we all know have an innocence and openness that has yet to be tainted with malice or sarcasm. When my six year old daughter says “Daddy why do you have such a big tummy?” it’s a genuine question driven by a candid curiosity. Yet she will grow to learn by society, what you can and can’t say to others, what is deem acceptable and not acceptable. This not just the thoughts she shares out loud but the feelings she will express. Throughout our childhood we are ordered and commanded as to what we should or shouldn’t be feeling. ”Don’t be angry, she didn’t do it on purpose ”explains our father “Stop feeling sad, you’re too old now for crying over such silly things” the mother informs her daughter. “Come on now, a girl your age shouldn’t be scared by this” says her older sister “You should be happy to see your Grandma” says Grandma. Even physical and visceral experiences can be questioned, as “It hurts” can be meet with “No it doesn’t” .The repetition of this external message gradually censors what feelings are beneficial or not to fulfil of our need to feel loved and secure. These outside message that compel us to hide our true feeling, do not make these feeling go away, rather they bury them safely away in some hidden aspect of our psyche .

As a result of this “how do I feel?” has more layers to it than you would think. Although these messages initially occur from the outside in, gradually over time we internalise this same message. Instead of hearing our father telling us to stop crying, it’s something we tell ourselves. This creates a form of emotional self-censorship, disguised as an independent and unique feeling and response to our environment. As a result we can end up very blind and deaf to the truth of what is really going on inside ourselves. So at an early age if we shared feelings of gloom or sadness, we may have been told over and over to stopping being so negative and instead to look on the bright side. So when a time comes in our lives, when deep down we may feel unmotivated and in despair about a situation, the conscious mind has internalised that message of “always look on the bright side” and won’t allow one to entertain such dark or destructive thoughts. So this despair, rather than be owned and accepted has to be subdued or anaesthetised by any number of methods that society avails us. These can the form medications, to TV, Food ,sex or alcohol .There massive and profitable industry set up to allow us to successfully , at least in the short term, cut us off from how it is we really feel .In fact the rhythm and structure of many people’s lives can just be one complicated and multi-faceted process of avoidance, distraction and numbing from the truth of how they really feel.

So when faced with learning how we truly feel, one needs to approach it from a position of seeing that the answer may in fact need to time to both be discovered and to be revealed .As we have become masters and experts in the art of self-deception. So good in fact, we can easily mistake lies for truth and create compelling and logical arguments about the merits of the lie we our telling to ourselves .This is particularly the case when it comes to self-deception that is centered around a belief or ideals that garners societies applause and approval. So it’s worth approaching question about how we feeling with a degree of caution and openness that are initial or reflex answer, may or may not accurately encapsulate how it is we truly feel.

There is a reason getting to the honest truth of how we feel is important in any ones life, as doing so enables us to lead and live authentic and fulfilling lives. As a life off kilter with our true feelings is a life of conflict, tension, repression and anguish. As we go about building and established a life that ends up aligned with an idea in our head, rather than a feeling within our hearts. As a result no matter how compelling our head convinces us of its truth, the heart will not rest until it is heard. There will be a relentless and unshakeable feeling that our lives are somehow “not right” even if we can tick all the boxes that telling us it is right. This discomfort arises from that disconnect we live with between how we really feel and how we think we should feel. We end up feeling no true ownership of our lives, as we live with a deep knowing that what we have done has been about others not ourselves. It ends up like the life of the person who has climbed the ladder of success to find the ladder he has been climbing is not his own, even worse but neither is even the wall the ladder is up against.

So to access our true feelings, our inner wildness, our heart of hearts we need only to be open. As it may help not to see it as a process of “finding out how we feel”, rather of being open to our “feelings finding us”. As feelings at their core can never be wrong or right or appropriate or inappropriate , they can only we what they are, feelings. Our feelings are always seeking to be heard and expressed. When we deny and suppress what wants be heard, like a defiant teenager, feelings don’t give in and conform, rather they just find more duplicitous ways or expresses themselves, ways that allow the expression without the ownership needed .This leads to confusion in others, confusion in ourselves, as we say one thing but seem to do an other .As in my experience, once of the most valuable feelings to be able to nurture in oneself is authenticity .Given we live in a society that is so pervasive in its in-authenticity, it makes sense that feeling this feeling can be difficult and unrewarded. As being truly authentic is a radical things to do, as we are defining our lives not in the assimilation of values coming in, rather the expression and feeling of what is arises from our heart in unhindered uncensored way. Yet as challenging as being “true” to ourselves can be, it also brings with it a peace with it that is sorely lacking in many people’s lives .It doesn’t eliminate the challenges and trying aspects of life, rather it means we can conduct ourselves with a certain ease and resolve in the knowing that whatever happens, or how ever things turn out, I can rest he fact I have been a least true to myself. A nurse cataloguing the most common death bed regrets over twenty five years, cited the feeling of “not being true to oneself” in the top five of many women and men’s regret, as they reflect on the life they have just lived.

As being true to ourselves is the ultimate act of courage, as it often initially forces us to take on things that unsettle our lives rather than pacify. Yet the valour required to be true to oneself also brings with it ones of life’s greatest rewards, which a feeling of integrity, of which we derive a feeling of serenity and peace. So as you face this question of “How do you feeling”, be willing to dig a little deeper, be open to answers that do not automatically fit what is expected of you. Doing so won’t rid you of all your problems but it give you a compass of truth that will guide and direct you no matter how difficult and challenging a situation can be .As you look down at your compass you can say with conviction and clarity, here is my north, here is my truth, forward I march knowing this to be so.