People feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them.
Epictetus (stoic philosopher and former slave)
Feelings refer to the experiential, receptive aspect of an affect (e.g. feeling hurt, happy, confused, nervous etc.). The capacity to feel is one of the main distinctions between the animate (people, animals) and inanimate (computers, robots, cars). This is what it means to be alive! A common view is that feelings are spontaneous and irrational, and that we are at their mercy, but in fact we can, at least to some degree, be in charge of our feelings. There are four stages in this process (reflecting four already covered areas):
- Notice what you feel (Self-awareness)
- Accept what you feel (Relating to oneself)
- Evaluate your feeling (Self-evaluation)
- Affect the way you feel (Personal change)
We have a natural tendency to ignore or block our awareness of feelings that may not be pleasant. This indeed may be justified in some situations (e.g. in an emergency), at least temporarily. Generally, though, it is a good idea to be aware of what you feel for several reasons:
- Feelings are trying to tell us something that may be important.
- Ignoring feelings doesn’t make them disappear. Their influence just becomes unconscious. So, for example, you may start avoiding certain situations, thinking in a certain way, or develop some body symptoms, and you won’t even know why.
- Deadening unpleasant feelings deadens pleasant ones too. So by doing so you reduce your capacity to feel at all.
- We can’t do anything about our feelings if we are not aware of them! Awareness is the first step of being more in charge. For example, feeling hurt is often behind our angry reactions. If we want to have a choice rather than acting automatically, we need to acknowledge that underlying feeling first.