In the midst of painful and confused feelings, we can ask ourselves whether we would be better off without feelings. Does my anxiety serve any purpose? Does my depression have meaning, or is it just biological bad luck? What benefit can there be to obsessive love, unrelenting guilt, repeating seasons of grief? Why do feelings have to be so painful and last so long?
As we seek answers to the problems posed by our feelings, it may be helpful to appreciate the positive role feelings are meant to play in our life. The more we can align our feelings with a positive understanding of what they can do for us, the more we can try trusting them to carry us forward in our lives.
Feelings Help Us To Survive
Feelings evolved in humans for the purpose of alerting us to everyday threats to our survival. We constantly scan our environment for dangers and opportunities, to satisfy our most basic needs. We get a constant body-mind report about the state of the world through our feelings. They give us a quick assessment about whether something is good for us or bad for us and they motivate us to take action accordingly.
Ask yourself in what way are my feelings trying to protect me or help me to survive? If you can understand and acknowledge this positive role of feelings, then you can reason with your feelings about how best to accomplish your goals.
Feelings Promote Emotional Attachment and Social Interaction
What are the dangers we face? What are our survival needs? Our experience as infants offers the earliest answer to these questions. The most basic need of a human infant is to engage its parents in an emotional attachment that will serve as the foundation for care, comfort, stimulation and interaction. Without emotional attachments, infants fail to thrive and die. This danger is never far from our minds at any age. Are we being abandoned? Who will care for us? Is our human environment intellectually and emotionally stimulating? Are feelings accessible for interpersonal connection and interplay? Are people available enough that being alone can be pleasurable?
Ask yourself what are my feelings telling me about my relationships? Do I feel like I could be abandoned or not loved? Do I feel like I have to earn love? Are the major people in my life trustworthy or treacherous?
Feelings Support Growth
It is clear that infants feel enjoyment as they practice and master new skills while exploring their environment and their interpersonal world. They are incessant learners, and not because they “have to be.” It is what they do spontaneously, spurred on by feelings of accomplishment. It is amazing to watch a baby progress toward crawling and then walking. It is as if the next stage of life is pulling them forward. If they are blocked, they become emotionally upset.
This enjoyment of growth is available to us at any age. We can keep exploring, challenging ourselves, mastering and enjoying new competencies.
Ask yourself am I allowing my feelings a chance to support new growth and learning in my life? Toward what new challenges in life do my feelings want to take me?
Feelings Move Us Toward Health and “More Life”
Beyond their origins in the infant’s experience, feelings emanate from adult sources the energy of health, the satisfaction of exercising our full adult capacities, the enjoyment of our sexuality, the integrity of ethical living, the pride of parenthood, a deepening sense of the intergenerational succession of family life, the payoffs of work that produces useful products and supports family and community life, and the evolving appreciation of wholeness and wellness and holiness. If we trust that the deepest movement and motivation of all our feelings is toward health and “more life,” then we can access and rely on their intelligence and wisdom.
Ask yourself how are my feelings guiding me to better health? How are they encouraging me toward the adult satisfactions of a mature life? What deep emotional intelligence is evolving through my experience?