The Importance of Feeling

Feeling is the bedrock of our existence. We cannot function with any degree of humanity without resonating to our feelings and allowing them to inform our thoughts and actions. To describe ourselves as anything but beholden to our feelings is to diminish our capacity for authentic connection with the world about us; to invite comparison with the sociopathic elements in society that create so much mayhem in the name of power, prestige and the lure of wealth. Our feelings provide us with a moral compass which, if carefully attended to, enables us to make ethical choices in the most difficult of circumstances.

Our feelings provide us with a moral compass which, if carefully attended to, enables us to make ethical choices in the most difficult of circumstances.

If we are fortunate, most of us are familiar with that most precious of experiences, when we fall in love and realise the extraordinary power of that event, transforming our perception of reality and endowing us with a sense of freedom from the constraints of normal living. We live literally in the moment and feel that with every second away from the loved one our life is on hold, waiting for the next heady encounter and the enchantment of intimacy.

Falling in love is but one example of how feeling can prove to be utterly overwhelming. There are countless others. But it provides a textbook example of how vulnerable we can suddenly feel in the absence of the loved one or in our imaginings of any event that might obstruct the relationship. There are others… the mother with her new-born, the father in bonding with his son, the grandparents in the gentle guardianship of their grandchildren… the list is endless, the examples legion.

Our feelings range across an infinite variety, unique to each person. Some are more socially acceptable, others less so. The feelings of the child, the adolescent and the young are tolerated with greater latitude than when they are perceived to govern the behaviour of the adult and the elderly. Some are disapproved of, depending on the culture and the nature of their expression. Some are outlawed as being so inimical to the welfare of others that only the threat of dire sanctions keeps them in check. Some are regarded as symptomatic of illness and mental instability. Some are so keenly felt that only the most drastic action will give release.

There are many instances where feelings are not easily tolerated, either in the nuclear family or beyond it in other relationships. Some feelings, such as shame, remorse, anger, loneliness and sexual needs that are deemed inadmissible are often so hard to contain that they end up paradoxically being repressed and denied expression. Repressed they may be, but the psyche forgets nothing and lets nothing fester for long.

The individual, who is struggling with the feeling that something is wrong, will often seek help from someone in whom they can confide. It may take time to build up sufficient trust to disclose what has lain unexplored and unvisited, perhaps over years. The process once started can ease into a healing momentum that allows the person to make sense of the missing bits and gradually integrate them with a new understanding of why they arose in the first place.  Fear is replaced by acceptance. Tolerance grows. A new and more confident sense of self is born.

The counselling process takes as a given that feeling is of paramount importance in understanding the individual. A long history, stretching back over a hundred years to the seminal findings of those who first attempted to describe the dynamics operating in the  unconscious, has clearly demonstrated that the role of feeling is central to our understanding of ourselves. We assume that our behaviour is governed by a rational grasp of reality, that we have a measure of control that defines who we are and how we intend to set about our lives. ‘I think therefore I am’ was a basic truth for Descartes, a convinced rationalist, first stated in 1637. After an interval of nearly 400 years, I suggest that his proposition be restated viz. ‘I feel, therefore I am’. Feeling comes first, not because the intellect is inferior but because the intellect needs a more intrinsic connection with reality before it joins up the dots, applies logic and tests its hypotheses. Like two horses they pull best when they are yoked in harness. Feeling without intellectual rigour is a recipe for mayhem; intellectual activity untethered to feeling is an open invitation to lose our humanity.

Feeling and intellect need an ethical framework and commitment before it can be said that they function in an integrated way. Ethics are of paramount importance. They inform the values that we live by and they guide us in reaching those decisions that determine the most equitable and benign outcome.  Ethics require moral courage. Easy answers and quick-fix solutions are unlikely. Ethics demand that we stand by our innermost convictions, push us out of our comfort zone and often surprise those who take us for granted.

For those who are uncomfortable with their feelings and prefer instead to ignore them lie the danger of disconnection from their emotional core and the possibility of entering a downward spiral into increasing loneliness. Disconnection is to be avoided if at all possible. It promotes values that are empty of merit. It results in relationships that are often superficial. It leads to loneliness as we struggle to make relationships in the absence of transparency, trust and real commitment. It carries the danger, if unchallenged, of pathology that is both highly distressing for the individual and for family and friends.

In our acknowledgement of feeling and surrender to its demands we engage in relationships with the potential for intimacy

In our acknowledgement of feeling and surrender to its demands we engage in relationships with the potential for intimacy. This is not simply the sexual intimacy with which we are familiar, but an intimacy that comes from trust and transparency. It is a raw experience, far removed from our comfort zone, where spontaneity and the immediacy of the situation take over. It is fraught with the unexpected, possibly the unwelcome, but encouraged by the very real joy of finally being ourselves whatever the risks involved. Intimacy enables us to explore feelings that are often ignored, much as the music lover might listen to a symphony and suddenly make discoveries barely suspected. Intimacy represents the grail of adult relationships where patience, gentleness and kindness prevail and the loneliness of existence is put to one side.

Through our willingness to accept our feelings, we move with them beyond our comfort zone; we learn to trust the process and the increasing transparency in our lives; our emotional perspective changes and we step further along the path of our personal evolution. We deepen our relationships with those around us, as tolerance and understanding grow. We relate to the world with greater generosity and we open ourselves to the potential that lies dormant within us to become more humane, more adult and more loving. There is nothing about the process that requires us to be other than honest and genuine in our dealings with the world. The result is that our perception of life gradually changes. We then realise that most of what the world takes for granted and on which it places a high value is actually of little interest compared to the simple act of caring for others and ensuring that their needs are placed ahead of our own.


© 2015 Nick Halpin