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  January 13, 2003

The Validity of Feelings

Most of us have been taught that feelings are untrustworthy. We have been convinced that logic, reason, and calm rationality are the epitome of reliability and maturity.

I find the opposite to be true. Cool rationality is often a false front that hides deeper immature motives and issues. In these cases, rationality is just a mask for irrationality. Many people who think they have risen beyond emotion are just covering up a mountain of unresolved feelings.

Most of us do not trust or understand emotions because we have not been allowed to express ourselves fully since birth. Our natural, feeling reactions have been denied, ignored, bribed, or shamed away.

"Don't cry!"
"There's no reason to cry."
"You look ugly when you cry."
"I'll give you something to cry about."
"Why the long face?"
"Don't be so sad."
"Don't frown."
"That looks silly."
"Put on a happy face."
"There's no reason to be afraid."
"Don't you dare raise your voice to me!"
"You don't have a right to be angry."
"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
"Stop jumping around."
"Stop giggling."
"You can't be hungry, you just ate."
"I don't care if you're not hungry, you have to eat."
"You don't have to go to the bathroom."
"You're just looking for attention."
"It's (stupid, pointless, useless) to feel that way."
"You can't be feeling that way."
"That's not how you feel."
"You're wrong."
"Just stop it."
"You're not really (sad, scared, angry) you're just _____."

Whether well-intentioned or not, this type of treatment is like a bulldozer that crushes our child spirit and innate wisdom. In a big mysterious world, we start to doubt ourselves - and believe the big people around us. Without practice, we forget what feelings are telling us.

Animals (animated beings) are full of activity. This activity is perceived as feelings and sensations of various sorts. Feelings are a continuous language of the whole organism. Feelings inform you of what you need and what you need to do. If you feel cold, you do something to get warmer. If you're hungry, you do something to get food. Feelings are essential to living.

When feelings are denied, they go "underground" and come up in ways we don't understand. Often feelings are over- or under-reactions to situations. If they are from old traumas, then their emergence does not directly relate to the momentary incident. The feelings appear irrational and are usually considered untrustworthy.

This is a mistake. Feelings are always valid. The feeling sensation is happening in the body, and therefore it is real. The interpretation of its meaning may vary, but the feeling itself is as true and self-evident as the sky above our heads. Every feeling rises from something, and if we stick with the feeling - as a pure expression - and let it happen, the origin will usually arise. Your partner may say "You scare me," when you did nothing to frighten her. The blame may be inaccurate, but her feeling of fright is real. If she can allow herself to explore that fearful feeling, she may, for instance, discover that something you did reminded her of her father - before he would beat her. If she were to release the unexpressed fear around those traumatic childhood beatings, she would be much less likely to feel fear in your presence.

Denying the validity of feelings has painful repercussions. Sexual abuse survivors, in particular, are poignant examples of this. They often suffer horrendous physical and emotional symptoms. In many cases, the validity of their feelings and their abuse are denied by the perpetrator, their family, the media, society - or even themselves. Their feelings and their suffering, however, are real even if the exact causes may be unclear. Emotional healing requires expression of original repressed feelings, and is not always dependent on the emergence of exact memories.

Even if your feelings seem to be chaotic, unpredictable, and hard to understand, that does not mean they are imaginary or foolish. Ignoring them or drugging them away will not remove them, and may only increase their strength. Feelings simply need to be felt. When they are a pain signal, they are trying to tell us something vital. They are the door to a path that leads to their root cause - and their resolution.

Feelings are very, very real.

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