Reconnect to your Core
a practical guide on how to feel good and be happy

What is a feeling?

According to Coughlin there are three components to a feeling that must be present for a person to be considered «in touch with» his feelings. The first component is cognitive, meaning that the person has to be able to label the correct feeling he’s feeling. The second component is physiological, meaning that the person has to viscerally feel how the feeling activates his body. Every feeling activates the body in a unique way. The physical experience of anger is very different than the physical experience of happiness, which again is different than the physical experience of sadness. The third component is the impulse of the feeling, also called the motoric aspect of the feeling. This means that the person has to be in touch with the impulses and fantasies of what the feeling «wants to do». Every feeling has an impulse that wants to reach out to another person. This impulse can either be to hold and embrace another as when love is present, or to strike out and hit another as when anger is present.

When the person is aware of all three components of the feeling that person is now «in touch with» his feeling. The absence of any of the components indicates the presence of a defense or that anxiety is present.

Often in a therapeutic setting patients will claim to be angry and report that in their fantasy they want to shake the person they’re angry at. However, when asked how they feel the feeling they report muscle tension, a tight stomach, and limp hands. But that activation pattern is not concurrent with the activation of anger. What they’re describing resembles the activation of anxiety. When people mix the physical activation of anger with that of anxiety it gives rise to confusion and symptoms. This is typical for many. People tend to misinterpret and defend against the physiological experience of the feeling, even though they label it correctly and often times have an elaborate fantasy of what the feeling wants to do.

Another common occurrence in psychotherapy is when patients can state that they’re angry and even feel it in their body, but when asked what the feeling wants to do they suddenly go passive. Here, the unconscious blocks out of awareness the impulses and fantasies that accompany the feeling. This keeps the person detached from himself.

Lastly are people that can’t name or label even the most obvious feeling. These are people in denial and/or that use DAEC as a defense. They can talk for hours about what other people did to them and how unfairly they were treated. But when asked about the feeling towards the person that treated them unfairly they claim that they «don’t feel anything» or that they «are definitely not angry».

Are feelings positive or negative?

Every feeling has a constructive function. Let’s use anger to illustrate this point. Anger is often referred to as a «negative feeling», but this dichotomy only sees one aspect of it. When we label anger as a negative feeling we don’t take into account the constructive aspects of anger. Anger lets a person set boundaries for himself, stand up for what he thinks is right, and react towards injustice and evil. Anger energizes a person into action. Seen in this light anger is indeed constructive and healthy as it support freedom and independence.

Secondly, when we label anger as a negative feeling we are confusing the physical feeling of anger with the defense mechanisms of acting out and discharge. A lot of people associate anger with yelling, screaming, throwing a temper tantrum, and hostility. However, this is far from the feeling of anger. Anger as any other feeling is first and foremost just a physical activation in the body. The mature response is to use it to relate to others and reach out to people. Every feeling wants to communicate personally from «me to you», even anger. Anger can be communicated very constructively by being compassionate, direct, setting boundaries, stating your intention, and being courageous while being willing to relate to others. This can be done in a calm and collected manner without any need for yelling or acting out. In fact, when we yell and act out our anger we do the opposite of relating personally with others. When we act out we push people away and try to dominate them.

Another example concerns feelings of sadness or grief. Especially sad feelings are often looked down upon by segments in our society. In some cultures and families sadness is even forbidden to express and is viewed as a sign of weakness. These attitudes are based on positionalities such as pride or gender, rather than based on the feelings themselves which are universally present for both sexes in every corner of the world. Everyone experience sadness and longing for closeness since the strivings are innate in all human beings and doesn’t discriminate based on gender, age, or cultural background.

According to Coughlin feelings are not intrinsically good or bad, safe or dangerous, weak or strong, but are deemed so as the direct experience of punishment and censorship with primary caretakers in early life. Access to and acceptance of every feeling are needed in order to become a fully functioning human being.

Access to some feelings but not others

People often have access to some feelings like anger and happiness, but not access to others like sadness or tender feelings. This is the result of upbringing and how our feelings were socially accepted or punished when we were young. Our UAM may have learned that only one feeling is dangerous, or it may have learned that all five of our feelings are dangerous. That depends on the emotional relationship with our earliest attachment figures. But even though a person only experiences anxiety in regards to one feeling, this will not necessarily make the subjective experience of «suffering» less intense than a person whose UAM activates in response to two, three, four, or five feelings.

Feelings interact with each other and reciprocally support how we feel about ourselves. A person that can be happy but not sad is superficial and uninvolved. A person that can be sad but not happy is coming from a position of pessimism and victimhood. A person that can feel love but not anger is weak and avoidant. A person that feels anger but not love is arrogant and domineering towards others. We need full access to every feeling if we are to become our authentic Self.

Feelings come in response to others and towards others

A feeling may be triggered both 1) in response to others as well as 2) towards others. As a young boy if you were ignored by your parents every time you expressed yourself then feelings would be triggered. These may both be reactive feelings inside you (i.e. between you and you), but also feelings towards your parents that ignored you (i.e. between you and others).

On some level we all know what we feel towards people that ignore us. Right there and then we don’t like them, and the feeling if we allow ourselves to experience it is anger. However, when someone we love hurt us this also causes guilt, pain, grief, and sadness inside us. Therefore feelings are said to come together. Usually we have mixed feelings in a situation consisting of both feelings inside us as well as feelings towards others. It’s very common that people that struggle with feelings phobia tend to ignore this important point. Often times they focus solely on feelings inside them while the feelings towards others are ignored, or vice versa.

How freely you’re able to feel «both sides of the coin» and shift between the inside-feeling and the toward-feeling will determine whether you end up stuck or are able to move forward and use your feelings constructively. In narcissistic patients there is ready access to anger towards others who hurt, but significant defenses against the internal experience of pain and grief. People suffering from depression often have it the other way around, they have access to the inside-hurt but little access to the angry feelings towards others that have hurt them.

Internal emotional conflict

When we’re angry at the same people we love, then the same people that we want to connect with are the same people that the tiger in us wants to attack and kill. This causes what is called an internal emotional conflict.

But it’s not always the conflict between love and anger that’s the internal conflict. Potentially there might be conflict between every combination of feelings. Often times we have a conflict between joy and sadness, between joy and guilt, between sadness and guilt, between anger and sadness, and between anger and guilt. All our feelings may combine to create an internal conflict.

An example may be a widow that wants to start dating again after her late husband passed away three years ago. But right before she’s about to meet her new suitor she’s struck by panic attack. Here a plausible internal conflict could be between joy and guilt. She wants to go out and enjoy herself, but feels guilty towards her late husband at the same time.

Internal conflicts are by the reptilian brain treated the same way as single forbidden feelings. It resolves internal conflicts through anxiety rather than allowing direct access to the feelings themselves. This is good to know when you’re stuck trying to search inside yourself for the buried unconscious feeling. Often times it may be an idea to not search for just one single feeling, but instead ask yourself: «What is the emotional conflict causing this anxiety?».

The article above is an excerpt from Chapter 5 in Reconnect to your Core.

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