Feelings 101

Have you ever watched a TV show depicting a therapist? Have you ever noticed that they always portray the therapist saying, “…and how does that make you feel?” Most people laugh at this. Although, people who have been to therapy know that feelings are often a major focus area in sessions. It seems silly, but there are several reasons why.


When asked how we are feeling, the typical response is Fine, Okay, Good, or Bad. None of these are actually feelings, and many times they are automatic responses. We’ve often learned that we are “supposed” to feel okay, and our answers are default in that way. Almost every time I review feelings with my clients, they say “Wow, we should have learned this in school”. Knowing how we feel is an important skill. It is part of being in touch with ourselves, and our bodies. It is critical to meaningful relationships with others. This awareness can help us in many ways throughout our lives.


The history of not being able to identify or express our feelings often begins in, you guessed it, our family of origin. Many of us grew up in families where feelings were not really talked about. They were often unsafe as in the case of rage. They may have even been used to manipulate.  Indirectly, in those experiences, we learned a lot about feelings. What we didn’t learn, however, was how to label them and express them.


In addition to our family of origin, our culture also plays a role in how we perceive emotions. Culturally, men are not encouraged to feel their feelings – except anger. On the contrary, women are encouraged to express their feelings, and are then often labeled overly emotional. Quite the paradox, right?


Facts About Feelings


  • There are many feelings and emotions.None of them are right or wrong. They just are. Feelings can be described as physical symptoms (e.g. nausea, headache, etc…) or emotional symptoms (e.g. fear, anger, love, etc…)


  • Each feeling provides us with gifts.For example, the feeling of pain gives us growth. The feeling of fear provides the gift of wisdom. Thus, feelings can help us in many ways.


  • Feelings are healthy whenthey are directly proportional to the situation at hand.  They are not healthy when they are being expressed in a way that hurts someone.


  • If we aren’t aware of our feelings,then they are often stored within the nervous system, and manifest as bodily symptoms. Illnesses related to the nervous system are often a result of unexpressed emotions.


  • The 8 primary emotions are a good place to start, and many therapists use this concept to simplify things when educating others about feelings. These primary emotions are: anger, pain, fear, shame, guilt, joy, passion, and love. Most other emotions are called secondary emotions, and usually fall under one of these 8 primary emotions category.


  • There is a difference between a thought and a feeling. A feeling is something we have as a result of a thought. “I think it is cold in this room. What I feel about that is frustration.” See the difference? Tip: If you are using the word “that” after a feeling, then it’s probably a thought. Example: “I feel that it’s too cold in this room.” That’s not a feeling. That’s a thought. 


So, there you have it, a couple of pointers to get you starter in your journey of identifying emotions. This simple concept is so important in developing meaningful relationships. The ability to express how you feel, and understand that expression from others is huge. It’s the very foundation upon which intimacy is built. Closeness is developed through feelings. Knowing your own feelings and expressing them allows others to truly see you, and vice versa. With this tips, you are one step closer to understanding both yourself and others.