Why have feelings? What’s the point? Feelings are natural reactions to real situations. They have a physical and a psychological impact. They are useful because they give us information about the situation we are it. Not having feelings would be to miss this useful (sometimes vital) information!
Somatic Feelings – information from our bodies
If I feel hunger, thirst or tiredness these are physiological responses to physical realities.
The realities are (in order) ‘my body needs food’, ‘my body needs water’ or ‘my body needs sleep’.
The same goes for feeling hot, shivering with cold or feeling poorly. The realities here are ‘my body is at too high a temperature’, ‘my body is at too low a temperature’ or ‘my body isn’t working as usual’.
These somatic feelings (e.g. ‘hunger’, ‘thirst’ and ‘tiredness’) are ways for our bodies to give us information about the immediate physical realities at that time.
We can then use our ‘thinking’ to change these physical realities e.g. by getting food, water or sleep. Or by turning down the heating, pulling on a jumper or seeing our GP.
In short, these somatic feelings are providing us with useful information that we can use. Let me emphasise that last point – the information we are getting from these feelings is something we can take into account as we do something different.
Without the feelings we would starve, dehydrate or burn out etc. without getting to know in advance that it was about to happen.
Authentic Feelings – a source of information.
If I’m walking in the jungle and a leopard appears I may feel fear.
If I’m awoken in my hotel room by loud music from next door then I may feel anger.
If my best friend said ‘Goodbye’ last week I may feel sad.
Notice how these feelings also have physiological components e.g. racing heart, tense muscles and tearful eyes. Our physiology for these feelings also includes hormonal activity.
So, by comparison with the somatic feelings, what information are these feelings providing?
- Fear – tells us that there is a problem in the immediate future that we don’t yet have a solution for (e.g. the leopard).
- Anger – tells us that there is a problem in the present which we don’t yet have a solution for (e.g. the noise).
- Sadness – tells us that there is a problem in the recent past that we don’t yet have a solution for (e.g. the loss of our friend).
So, these feelings are hormonal and physical internal reactions and point to unresolved problems just as with somatic feelings. Again, our feelings are giving us information.
Just as with the somatic ‘bad’ feelings (e.g. hunger) these ‘bad’ feelings (e.g. sadness) tend to highlight some external circumstance that is, to some degree or other, causing an external stress.
And, just as with the somatic feelings, we can use thinking to find a way to solve the problem (e.g. shoot the leopard, tell the person in the street that we need them to be more careful, Skype or replace our friend).
In Transactional Analysis these three ‘bad’ feelings (Fear, Anger, Sadness) along with Joy are described as ‘authentic’.
Expressing Authentic Feelings finishes them.
Expressing authentic feelings is a very ‘clean’ process. As we feel the sadness of losing our friend, naturally cry, and ‘hear’ the information, the loss, that the feeling is offering to us, the feeling soon passes. There is a sense of completeness and ease, with no ‘aftershocks’ or ‘rumblings’. When authentic feelings are expressed, they are done with. And we can get on and use the information they offered to us – like Skyping our friend.
The same is true of an authentic expression of anger. If I really allow the feelings of anger when I’m awoken in the night I ‘hear’ my urge to be attacking and to ‘make them change’. Using thinking, I decide the most effective solution is to ‘phone reception and express assertively just how much I need my neighbour to ‘turn it down’. Having allowed this anger, it is complete. It doesn’t rumble on or come back in waves. I get back to sleep.
Other feelings are not so ‘Authentic’
Having feelings like ‘panic’, ‘guilty’ or ‘feeling invisible’ or ‘frustrated’ isn’t so straightforward. They are certainly real feelings in the sense that they may come as a strong reaction to the circumstances we find ourselves in.
But when we consider the information they offer it doesn’t seem so clear. And, these feelings have a tendency to recur, or just ‘rumble on’ after the event that triggers them.
In TA, these feelings are considered to be inauthentic, or ‘racket’ feelings, quite unlike the four authentic feelings of joy, sadness, anger and fear.
Getting support with feelings
Remember that everyone is different and any self-help process can only offer ideas in general terms. It may be that ‘dealing with feelings’, especially uncomfortable ones, means working with someone who is qualified to support you.
Why not book an initial assessment session with a counsellor/therapist who is registered with a nationally recognised professional body (such as BACP or UKCP in the UK)?