No, not that F word. I’m talking about feelings. Love them or hate them, but we all have them. They’re present with us for every victory, every joy, every love, every injustice, every sorrow, every fear. They can drive us, they can freeze us. They can make all the sense in the world, or they can make no sense at all. It doesn’t take much to see why our culture has developed such an aversion to this enigmatic concept. Where does one begin to understand it?
If you know anything about driving a car, you might know that from time to time a sudden blinking symbol and an insistent little beep can suddenly appear on your dashboard. These little indicators appear to tell you that something is going on with your vehicle. Much of the time, they do not call for instant action. They usually aren’t saying, “getoutofthecarrightnoworyou’regoingtoEXPLODE!!!” …It’s often more like, “Hey! We noticed your gas is running a little bit low; you might want to head to the gas station the next time you have a spare moment, before your car runs out altogether. I’ll stick around until you do so you don’t forget!” We can (most of the time, anyway) acknowledge that these indicators are morally neutral. They are neither “good” nor “bad” – they are simply there, conveying a message that something is in need of attention.
A good place to start in understanding our feelings is to imagine that they are the indicator lights on our internal experiential dashboard. Just like in your car, when they light up, they are trying to tell you that something is going on with you. They are also morally neutral – neither “good” nor “bad” but simply there, conveying a message that something is in need of attention. Perhaps most importantly, they will stick around until you attend to them. Many of us have had our indicator lights flashing and beeping at us for a very long time. They’re annoying at best, painful at worst.
The reality is, our feelings have a very important job to do – they are there to help us identify a need (often relational) and to ask for a soothing response. If we were to categorize the whole array of difficult feelings one might be able to experience into three main categories, we would have sad, mad, and scared.
Sadness says, “Something is missing,” and is asking for comfort.
Anger says, “Something is unfair,” and is asking for justice.
Fear says, “Something is dangerous,” and is asking for safety.
An important lesson that I have personally learned is this: Understanding and attending to your emotions is not the same thing as being sensitive, or selfish, or even reckless. In fact, it can be one of the most prudent things to do for ourselves and for our most precious relationships, because we can’t properly attend to what we don’t understand. The “high beam” indicator light looks a lot like a jellyfish or a flying missile if you don’t understand what it actually symbolizes – imagine trying to deal with that!
Savannah Citron, LMFT Associate
I aim to create a therapeutic experience that is collaborative, creative, and compassionate by combining the best of evidence-based practice with the firsthand, real-time experiences of the human heart, mind, and soul. Together our goal will be to learn, to heal, and to hope.