Marcia Christen - Blog - April 20, 2016

The "F" word

Ok, so you thought I might be writing about swearing, but I'm actually writing about  Feelings.  Many people consider feelings the "f" word, because they've been taught that certain ones aren't good and you need to move away from them, get over them as quick as possible.  Or we're taught that we're too sensitive, that we have too many feelings.  In any case, our poor feelings have gotten a bum rap as we used to say.  Feelings have not been appreciated for all they do for us.  And the more we're told not to have certain feelings such as anger, sadness, disappointment, envy, depression, and rage, the more we get the message that we can't handle feelings and they are something to be feared.  When we lose the ability to be with our feelings we reduce our resiliency, our ability to bounce back, and we reduce our ability to be with a large part of our lives. We also reduce our ability to be with others in an effective way.  On top of this we lose a feedback system that can give us a lot of information to help us.  Many fear that if they have their feelings it's too vulnerable or they won't ever get out of them and they'll wallow or fall into an abyss and be dysfunctional. In actuality most feelings last less than a minute when we acknowledge they're there.  Naming feelings and allowing them to be there can help us get out of our looping thinking, when we're caught in judgments about ourselves or others, that may or may not actually be true. And naming feelings helps us to begin to tap into our own inner awareness and wisdom!

Feelings or emotions are energy in motion - e-motions.  And that energy is giving us information that something needs our attention.  Feelings are body sensations.  Anger for me might be my heart beating faster, my palms sweating, my face feeling hotter or any number of things.  Those body sensations help me know if my needs are met or unmet and help me to act out of choice and mindfulness in ways that might actually get my needs met and I have the ability then to also consider needs of others.  Thank goodness for the movie "Inside Out", which won an academy award, because it shows us that ALL feelings are important and we need them.

And I'd like to take it a bit further.  Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, taught that feelings are there to tell us if our needs are met or unmet.  So feelings are the results of Universal Human Needs, the values and qualities of life that help us thrive.  Such as Respect, Consideration, Being Seen, Being Heard, Connection, Integrity, Safety, Protection, Kindness, Beauty, Growth, Appreciation, Trust, Reassurance, Security, Clarity, Understanding.  These values help us thrive and all humans share the same Needs, we only conflict on the ways, or the strategies we use to meet needs. Once I have a feeling I can then identify the need!  If I'm feeling a feeling that we term as "negative", one I don't enjoy, then there is something that I am longing for, that I am trying to meet, that is not met.  For example, if I notice my jaw is tight, my arms are clenched, I might feel frustrated because I am needing Respect and Consideration.  Or I might feel heavy in my shoulders because I am feeling disappointed because I'm needing connection and companionship. 

Where attention goes Energy flows. 

So when I identify a feeling and a Need (or many feelings and needs as is usually the case), I can then move toward getting that Need or Needs met.  I can increase my awareness of what's going on for me and make a request of myself or another to get my Needs met.  I can be open to many strategies to meet a Need.  I can also hold others' Needs with care and we can find ways we can get as many Needs met as we can through natural giving - giving that comes freely from the heart.  Marshall explained that when we empathize with someone or ourselves, we listen for feelings and needs. And we are all operating in an empathy deficit. SO name those feelings! and what needs they're connected to.  Everyone could get their bucket filled that way.  And if we can be resourced we can be more likely to be able to name feelings and needs for others and then they get filled up!!

Now our language doesn't always help us realize that Feelings are the results of Needs and that we are responsible for our feelings and Needs.  In fact, it's the opposite.  How often do you hear "How did that make you feel?", or "That made me so mad!"  When we believe that our feelings come from external places that things make us feel, then we lose our power and our responsibility for them. When I understand my own feelings and Needs I can become responsible to find strategies to meet them.   There is also saying "I feel like..." and "I feel that..." when what follows isn't a feeling at all, but a thought, usually a judgment that will actually keep us looping in the feeling and the feeling will be in control.  When we listen in empathy, when we are present to ourselves or another's feelings, without taking them on, or staying stuck in them, without reacting to them or reacting out of them, then we merely listen and guess what those feelings and Needs are.  We allow ourselves or others to empty our hearts to get to the heart of the matter.  Just in naming the Needs, I am more connected to them.  There has been research shown that what we resist, persists.  So, researchers studied brains when someone was shown a picture which elicited an emotion.  The emotional center of the brain lights up when there is an emotional experience.  Researchers found that if the feeling was named, then the lighting up of the emotional area of the brain decreased.  If the feeling was not named and the person just didn't think of it or distracted themselves, then the area stayed lit up, even though the person appeared to be "in control".  No wonder we react all of a sudden and wonder why we did that, the feeling never got to be expressed, so it comes out.

So, Name, Claim and Tame your feelings. Name the emotion or body sensation. Claim that it is your responsibility by naming and sensing what it is that your heart is longing for.  What is important to you right now? Tame them by connecting feelings to a Need and seeing what requests you can make of yourself or others.  Tame them by not acting out of them tragically to meet needs without any awareness of what they are.  Sometimes we can just rest in the needs and let any strategy or wisdom come organically.

Steps to increase awareness and choice:

  1. Observe:  Notice what you are thinking - be an observer of your thoughts and what's actually happening, not your interpretation of what's happening. (You can put your hand on your head to remind yourself).  You can ask yourself, "What am i telling myself?" or "What am I believing right now?". 
  2. Notice what's going on in your body (Feelings) You can even put your hand on your heart to remember to notice your feelings and to be kind and gentle with yourself.  Let yourself have your feelings.  Give them room to help you know what's going on so you can act out of choice rather than just reacting. 
  3. Notice what it is that you really value.  What Needs of yours are met in this moment, what Needs of yours are not met that you're longing for? (You can place your hand on your gut as a reminder of what core values are up). 
  4. Let those be, take a breath or two and see if naming them is enough to remind you to move towards them or is enough to connect to how important it is to you or see if there's a request you have in this moment.  Open hands is a symbol of holding the needs dear and seeing if there's a request that comes to you. When we don't know what it is we're wanting in any moment, what Need is up for us, we tend to try to meet these Needs in not so serving ways, or tragic ways that won't get our needs met in the end or will be at a cost.  When you guess someone else's feelings and Needs, you help calm their emotional center and help them slow down and connect so they can come to their inner wisdom of how they might meet those Needs.  And it's super important for us as humans to have connection - where people get us.

So the biggest gift you can give is your presence to yourself or someone's feelings and Needs.  No need to solve the problem, or talk them out of their feelings, or console, educate, one up or interrogate, just imagine what they might be feeling and what's important to them. You can silently empathize or say your empathy guess out loud.  Doesn't matter if you're right or not, because just the naming of the feelings and needs is helpful.  So, go ahead and have those feelings now that you know they're *&!# awesome!

To learn more about Nonviolent Communication or for a list of Feelings and Needs see  See also and