Feeling Your Feelings


Today I’m talking about a topic that is really important, not only in Psychology but also in life as well. If I could only talk about one thing in Psychology until the end of my days, this would be it; and it’s the importance of our feelings.

So what are they, why do we have them? And what happens if I don’t feel them? I found out that apparently in the English language there are 4,000 words used to describe our feelings. Don’t ask me to list them all, I wouldn’t have a clue! But really, that they can be boiled down to about four to eight different emotions that are universal. They’re experienced across every single culture. So feelings are a visceral experience, a felt experience in the body.

I often say to people that they’re called feelings because we’re supposed to feel them, their role is to communicate messages to us, usually important ones, to give us a sense of meaning in life, to help us understand what’s important to us. And so if we’re thinking about the different types of emotions, take for example:

Anxiety, really at its core it’s designed to keep us alive, it’s supposed to warn us about danger or threats in the environment around us and gear us up to fight off or to run away from anything that might harm us.
Anger is designed to protect us from being mistreated.
Sadness helps us to grieve and to connect to other people.
Happiness helps us to get in touch with what brings us a sense of joy and fulfilment in life.

We know that a lot of mental ill health boils down to problems around experiencing our emotions. So whether or not someone becomes overwhelmed and flooded with feelings and just doesn’t know how to reign them in to control them and regulate them, or on the other end of the spectrum, people that suppress or push down, avoid their feelings, which can lead to a host of other problems and symptoms.

I had a client once, a young female lawyer who told me that she ignores her emotions very frequently, and she said that she knows when things are getting on top of her because her skin would break out in a quite a severe eczema reaction or she would have a panic attack. Outside of that, she would ignore any kind of feeling, any kind of emotion that was going on inside her and it wasn’t until her body responded in quite a severe way that she would tune in and pay attention to it.

We know that those people that push their feelings down lose the ability to be able to regulate their feelings. And also to understand what causes the emotional difficulties in the first place. The amount of times I see people in my clinic that come in for depression, anxiety, trauma, OCD and other symptoms, and I ask them when did these problems start? What was going on for you at the time? What caused this to happen in the first place? And they say ‘Do you know, I really don’t know,’ and as we’re working together, one of the things that becomes more and more apparent is how disconnected from their inner life they truly are.

We know that one of the best measures of success in career and also life as well is not intelligence, I mean, that has a role and it will take you so far, but really this idea, this construct, what Daniel Goleman refers to as, emotional intelligence, that is the ability to connect to, oneself, ones inner experiences, thoughts, feelings, and also to be able to connect to other people, to understand their emotions and to, I guess, behave appropriately and in response to one’s own and other’s feelings.

Something else that we know that is one of the best predictors of happiness is also a sense of connectedness to other people, social support. A really good longitudinal study from Harvard University which has been going on for about 80 or 90 years so far looked at this so there’s a Ted talk I think it’s called ‘what makes a good life’ and they found that it’s the ability to connect to other people around us, having a good sense of social support or community. So what does that have to do with feelings? Well, I guess if you are able to connect to yourself, you’re much more able to connect to other people.

The flip side to that is that if you typically avoid or push down your feelings, you’re also going to avoid anything or anyone that triggers emotions within you. And so quite often I see people that have really good people in their life by the sounds of it, but that keep them at arms length and what tends to happen is that when someone tries to connect to you in a real and authentic way, it’s going to stir up feelings inside you.
And so if you’re not used to kind feeling your feelings, if you get anxious over that and tend to avoid it, once again, you’re going push away or not let it in, anyone that tries to get close to you. And so you either have people in your life, but you just don’t get to connect to them in a meaningful way. Or the other side is that you might let in the wrong kinds of people, people that would mistreat, rather than treat you well.

So I hope this video and blog has been helpful for people out there, as I said, it’s a really important topic. I will probably plan to do a few more videos on this topic at a later date. So I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback, thanks again for watching and I do look forward to talking to you again soon.

Dr Jamie Barnier

About Dr Jamie

I’m a Clinical Psychologist based in Melbourne who helps adolescents and adults cope with overwhelming emotions and remove the need to numb negative feelings through food, alcohol, sex or drugs. I focus on addressing the root cause of the problem with the goal of creating happiness, peace and lasting change.

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