February 18, 2007



MAD: Angry, irritated, upset, frustrated, enraged, furious, provoked.

SAD: Depressed, disappointed, envy, anguish, dejected, sorrowful.

GLAD: Happy, euphoric, euthymic, elated, excited, thrilled, delighted.

FEAR: Afraid, tense, anxious, scared, alarmed, apprehensive, panic.

CONFUSED: Perplexed, bewildered, puzzled, stumped, confounded.

At the risk of mixing biology with semantics, it is said that our feelings originate from the heart, gut or belly button, and that our thoughts come from the head. A public speaker who talks from the "heart" puts more "feeling" into a speech than someone who reads from a script. To tell someone, "Use your head", means to tell someone to put some rational "thought" into whatever is being said or done. As far as the correlation between our feelings and the gut or belly button, consider this:


Question: What else is associated with life?
Answer: The belly button located by the gut. At birth, the umbilical cord is the connection between a new life and the placenta of the mother.

Readers of "Stooltime Counseling" are aware that our feelings are one-third of the human experience. Our thoughts and behaviors create the other two-thirds. This article focuses on the one-third that gives substance and meaning to life. It is the "one-third" that is not experienced by people who abuse illicit drugs or alcohol: our feelings. People who abuse illicit drugs or alcohol are people who are emotionally dead. "Know drugs, no feelings" so to speak. The war on drugs is complicated. Attacking it from the emotional level requires a three-pronged approach. This three-pronged strategy is useful not only to people who want to be clean and sober, but to any of us who want to meaningfully function on a day-to-day basis. It is a skill, and like any skill, it can be learned. Learning how to regulate our emotions so we can live a life with the goal to move towards a secure sense of self requires:

1) ACCEPTANCE of our feelings,
2) TOLERANCE of all feelings,

Feelings allow us to put energy (life) into our thoughts and behaviors. Emotions tell us something is important. To feel mad when a loved one is killed by a drunk driver. To be sad when attending a funeral. To be glad when our child graduates from high school. To have fear of the unknown when diagnosed with an illness. To be confused because despite all of our best efforts, the weight loss isn't happening.

Acceptance of this energy we call "feelings" means being able to identify, name and own them. Once we name our feelings, we can do something about them! It is easier to accept our feelings when we know that feelings are neither right nor wrong. They are neither good nor bad. Some of them are painful, others are more pleasureable. It is by how we express them behaviorally that determines if we fit into a polite and civilized society.

Tolerance of this energy means being flexible, resilient and having the ability to cope. It is usually more difficult to tolerate the painful feelings we experience because, by nature, we tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Think of watching on TV your home team losing a game to their opponent. Remember the frustration? Remember changing the channel? It is difficult to say whether we learn frustration tolerance or if it is something that develops like a callous on our knuckles after hitting a punching bag over and over.

The positive expression of this energy means managing our feelings so they can impact what we think, say or do in adaptive ways. An example of managing our feelings is taking a deep breath when angry as a way to soothe ourself. Most people like to soothe themselves when feeling an intense, painful feeling. Once the intensity subsides, we can better express the feeling in a rational manner by way of what we think or do.

Feelings are not logical. Our thoughts and actions can be logical, but not our feelings. Feelings are not facts. To say that I feel stupid does not mean that I am stupid. However, stupidity can be measured by our actions. Forrest Gump's mother taught him, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Happiness, like gas, will pass. It's okay to share our happiness with others, but probably not our gas. Both are expressions of intimacy, but one is more polite than the other. Sharing any feeling can foster emotional intimacy.

The opposite of to accept, tolerate and positively express our feelings is to deny, suppress and act out. It has been said by some authorities that men are socialized to deny their feelings. At an early age, for example, boys are taught not to cry because it is a sign of weakness. Another example: children of alcoholic parents are generally taught three main lessons: Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel. (Know alcohol, no feelings). Talk about going through life like a machine, an object devoid of feelings! How sad. It is possible for us to learn acceptance, tolerance and how to express our feelings in positive ways, whether they be comfortable or uncomfortable ones. "Assertiveness" is one tool we can use to facilitate the positive expression of our feelings.

Assertive communication is one of the best relationship building skills of which I can think. It involves the principle of mutual validation. To be assertive means to tell others what we want from them while listening and responding to what they want from us. Thoughts, feelings and actions are acknowledged and validated as issues are confronted. Here's a true story of how this can be done using the feelings/gas metaphor:

Sometimes feelings can be expressed by way of passing gas. A catcher on a softball team had a ritual of asking the cook at her job site's cafeteria to prepare split pea soup on the days she would play a game. Since the two were friends, and even though it was a burden for the cook to prepare the split pea soup because the cook needed to stay up all night cutting the peas in half, the cook was happy to oblige. At game time, the catcher would warn the umpire, "Just to let you know, I had some split pea soup before the game. If you make any bad calls, I'll let you know!" Umpires would usually smile, which in turn begs the question: Is that facial grimace a sign of gas, too? What a stinky but creative way to assert dissatisfaction if the umpire makes a bad call at home plate!

As noted, there are five major feelings, some of which are more painful than others. Please realize that there is a difference between someone who stays home all day, drapes closed, staring into the dim lighting, and someone who is depressed because they have problems. The former example could be someone who is chronically depressed; the latter may be someone, who despite their problems, can still function. The chronically depressed person may have a mental illness that prohibits their feelings from being fleeting subjective experiences.

If we are unable to regulate intense painful feelings, and we look for unhealthy ways to get relief, a psychological assessment to rule out a chemical imbalance of the brain might be a recommendation. Generally, medication and counseling work together better than either one of them alone.

To better understand the emotional status of someone who has a Major Depression, when you feel sad or anxious, imagine magnifying those feelings 100 times to help you feel more empathic. Then ask yourself, "How would I function?" For the person who suspects having a severe and persistent mental illness, please, get some professional help, despite the social stigma. Check the phone book for available private psychiatrists and therapists if you have insurance. For those without insurance, call your local Community Mental Health agency. The people who need help and get it are less dangerous to themselves and others than the people who need professional help, but ignore their symptoms.

Our feelings appear in a context, have a purpose, and need to be accepted, tolerated and expressed in positive ways. In this manner, feelings will pass. However, if there is a mental illness, the feelings are a part of a syndrome. Sadness could mean multiple things, yet not be connected to any problem. It's up to all of us, mentally ill or not, to recognize our problems, make good choices and get help if we need it so we can learn to regulate our feelings in adaptive ways.

In my opinion, one of the best gifts a parent can give their child(ren) is to teach them how to self-regulate. Kids learn how to self-regulate their feelings by watching how their parents model it. The parents are models, the kids are students. There's a difference between misplaced feelings (ones that are repressed, suppressed or otherwise maladaptively acted-out) and modeling acceptance, tolerance and the positive expression of feelings. The kids are watching!

Actor/Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been called, "The Terminator," based on his movie of the same name. Detroit Red Wing hockey goalie, Dominik Hasek, is called, "The Dominator," based on his awesome hockey skills. Now it is time for each of us to become known as, "The Regulator," based on our ability to do the same with our emotions!




Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Thanks for your support of Stooltime Counseling and me, and for the title to this article, Kathy. You rock! I love you!

No comments: