The Wisdom of Emotions: How Feelings Shape Our Lives
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Feelings and emotions are integral to the human experience, influencing our choices, interpersonal connections, and overall well-being. While the adage “ignorance is bliss” has often been repeated, profound wisdom is concealed within our emotions and feelings.
But first, it would be worthwhile to distinguish what the difference is between a feeling and emotion – since the two often get used interchangeably.
Here, at BAAM, we like to refer to the fact that we are born with four basic core feelings: Happy, Sad, Scared (fear) and Anger. All other feelings/emotions are derivatives of these four fundamental feelings and therefore can be reduced back to them at their core.
But let’s provide some definition to the difference between feelings and emotions. Some people like to refer to emotions as ‘feelings with energy’ behind them. Essentially, they originate as sensations in the body. Feelings are affected by our emotions but are influenced from our mental thoughts.
Let’s look at an example:
You are about to arrive at a party. Suddenly, you get a knot in your stomach and you feel tension in your muscles or your jaw clenches. Your mind labels this as feeling shy or anxious because you realise you hardly know anyone and your ex has arrived too. Yet, somebody else might be excited to meet new people and enjoy the idea of seeing their ex again.
Take a different example of emotional threat: A bully might respond with the feeling of anger because it feels empowering, whereas labeling the threat “fear” would be too vulnerable for them. In contrast, the non-bully might respond with feeling intimidated. This is why feelings can be so different from person to person in the same scenario.
Emotions are the raw data, a reaction to the present reality, whereas feelings can be diluted by stories we’ve created in our head based on events of the past or fears of the future—not necessarily the truth of the situation.
In other words, most of us get very caught up in our heads about the stories we make up about our experiences. We get lost in possibly mistaken beliefs or inaccurate judgements – all instances that are derived from our past experiences. When you tune into the body sensation of an emotion, it helps to connect you to the current time – present tense reality.
Now, some people may find it incredibly difficult to connect to their bodies at all – that they feel nothing. Then you can work the other way around. Name the mental feeling and then tune into your body and ask the question, “How do I know this to be true?” If that still remains incredibly difficult, then practice exploring how your body feels in different nervous system states for example; when you are in fight, flight or freeze. What does your body feel like when it is incredibly adrenalised, totally shut down or at ease, in a state of calm and peace or joy.
Once you develop an awareness of the emotional sensations of your body – called interio-ception – it offers you a profound sense of self-agency. It means you get a more accurate feedback of what is going on for you and you can shuttle your awareness to giving yourself what you need in the moment more quickly; for instance – maybe it’s that you need to move, jump up and down, shake it all out, or just sit quietly with a caring hand on your belly or just needing to take a walk and breathe it out. Not getting caught up in what we make things mean to us and propelling our minds into drama cycles or self-doubt or severe ruminating allows for a more spacious sense of living.
Your emotional cues via sensations in your body will offer you that gift of present time awareness. Keep asking what are these sensations trying to tell you and then commit to hearing them. It’s an act of care and self respect when you can tune into these emotions and then actively attend to them. Often, it’s simply the acknowledgement that they exist that allows them to move through you or offer you an opportunity to make decisions that better serve you. It’s a far healthier strategy than repression.
It is true that people suffering from trauma can often feel emotionally numb. What is so important to recognise here is not to judge this strategy; after all – it is a survival strategy and profoundly effective – of which you would’ve had very little choice. In other words, your central nervous system made that decision for you and it got you here. The way forward is to go slowly. Once you can connect to a raw emotion, the task is to ‘name it so that you can tame it. Remember, emotional pain has a size and a shape. It only takes over when it is NOT allowed its voice. Giving it a shape and form and naming it allows you to have a conscious awareness of it – you get to decide when and where or how much you can deal with at any given time as opposed to feeling utterly overwhelmed. The more you do this, the less reactive you become and the more your relationships become peaceful and connected.
This is what it means to be emotionally intelligent. Reading your internal sensations, in the present moment by grounding yourself in your body, assessing your needs, managing reactivity with self-agency, and engaging in more thoughtful decision-making.
Emotions are a wise language within you, always trying to give you useful information to stay regulated, resilient, and show up as your best self.