Acausal Understanding Ourselves

Follow Your Heart? But How? – The Kairos Approach

How often have you heard “Follow Your Heart”? How often have you thought “OK, but how?!!”

You may have heard a version that says “Follow Your Heart but Take Your Head With You”. I believe that this is more useful – and below is my understanding of this widespread invitation to use our intuition.

There are several references to the theories of Transactional Analysis (or ‘TA’) but don’t worry if these are of no interest to you – they aren’t essential to understanding my ideas.

Two versions of time

When we talk about time, our meanings are usually quantitative and describe, quite precisely, when something was, when it started or how long it lasted. This is the world of seconds, minutes & years.

But there is another aspect to time, a more qualitative one, which has far less to do with the measurable, cause-and-effect perspective and more to do with ‘what this time is like’ or the inherent qualities and texture of the time under consideration.

The causal, quantitative quality of time is everywhere and we are very used to working with it – in our diaries, our timetables and in making scientific measurements. This is incredibly useful when, for example, we want to travel by air or plan an event. But the acausal, qualitative view of time does also manage to find its way into our lives, and also has great value.seasons

The seasons, for example, have strongly qualitative textures. We know Spring from autumn, and know which season we are in, but it’s very difficult to say precisely when each season starts or ends. Rather, a morning will come along when we know that ‘Spring is in the air’ or  a tree will show us the ‘first signs’ of autumn.

For speakers of the Romance languages (e.g. French) the two qualities of time may be much more apparent. ‘Le jour’ is a specific day of 24 hours or that part of it which is not night. ‘La journee’ has a more sensory quality – it is a day spent with someone, or doing something, and need not have a meaning to the speaker of a specific, measurable period of time.

Introducing Kairos

For very ancient peoples it’s likely that this qualitative perspective on time predominated. But in the classical period (Ancient Greece & Rome) both perspectives were more commonplace. So the Greeks had two deities to represent time – Chronos (for quantitative, measured time) and Kairos (for qualitative, experienced time).

Images and descriptions of Kairos include the following features;

  • He has wings on his back and feet – this gives him a fleeting and fast approaching quality.
  • He has a tuft of hair on the front of his head – the forelock by which we can grab him.
  • He has the back of his head shaven – if we miss his forelock there’s no way to grab him from behind.

For Greeks ancient and modern, kairos also means ‘the weather’ and kairoi are ‘the times’ as in ‘we live in difficult times’. Again, the qualitative, experiential, non-scientific mode of referring to time is used.

Opportunity knocks but once… (proverb)

Kairos represents the way in which time offers us opportunity. Opportunity arises suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere, and our job is to grab it by the forelock. If we delay then opportunity flies by. We miss it, and there’s no way to recapture it. Our only hope is to let lost opportunities go, to face forward, face oncoming Kairos so that when the next opportunity presents we are ready to take hold, to grab his tuft of hair.

Seizing the Day – Carpe Diem  

rushingHere’s my opportunity to take some energy out of a popular Western myth! ‘Seize the day’ has come to mean ‘jump out of bed and get on with it…, fill all your time…, live life to the max…’.

This idea invites us to ‘do, do, do…’ until we drop, and to ‘drive, drive, drive…’ until we’ve ‘made it’.

From a TA (Transactional Analysis) perspective this is an invitation to engage in our TA Driver behaviour which ultimately invites us towards the payoff of our early life scripting rather than towards autonomy, spontaneity and intimacy.

When the poet Horace wrote (Odes 1:11) “fugerit invida aetas; carpe diem…” (envious time will have fled, seize the day…) he chose two feminine nouns for ‘time’ and ‘day’.

And the verb ‘carpere’ can also be used to mean ‘harvest/pick/pluck’ or even to ‘enjoy’.

In a World-view which knew Kairos, Horace’s ‘fleeing time’ and ‘seizing’ are more consistent with a lesson about meeting opportunity as it arises (seizing the tuft of hair on Kairos’s forehead) and enjoying the benefits this offers rather than hammering every last ounce of ‘progress’ out of each day in order to ‘meet our goals’.

Horace’s idea is more consistent with ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ (Herrick) or the more rebellious ‘When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ (from a TA perspective this sense of determination is functionally +RAC).

Kairos In Spiritual Psychology

A fully acausal view of time includes the idea that for each ‘season’ or ‘era’ (nouns for time in English which have an acausal, qualitative feel) only certain events are fitting or even possible.

If we grow tomatoes (in the UK) then we just cannot have fruit in January or November. Precisely when we can have fruit is uncertain – tomatoes, and natural processes generally, don’t work to a chronos calendar. Even commercially, with modern F1 hybrids, a grower will be working towards ‘week 26’ with some degree of uncertainty, and keeping an eye on the weather (kairoi).

A fully acausal view sees all of Life’s activity in this way including starting a business, going on holiday or moving home.

In Ecclesiastes 3 (The Tanakh & The Old Testament) there is ‘a season for every activity under the heavens’ including ‘a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…’.

In the Greek versions of the Old Testament the word ‘kairos’ is used here over and over.

It may be possible to act or begin activities without regard to the ‘season’ and what is fitting for the season. But this is ‘pushing against the river’ and may become ‘driven’ (see TA drivers), uses a lot of energy and other resources and may miss the opportunities presented by Kairos.

Toolkit – Working with Kairos

So how do we use this qualitative concept of time to help us know how to live? Sometimes I meet clients who just don’t know what they want, or have lost contact with how to ‘hear’ (internally) what they need and what their ‘heart’ (or intuition) is telling them.

There are a number of tools I offer for this. And working with Kairos is a useful one of these tools.

shopping trolleyAs an example to begin working I’ll look at supermarket shopping, something that many people get involved in.

Example – The ‘cause-and-effect’ way to go to the supermarket…

One way to do the shopping is to imagine the week unfolding ahead of you and write a list of all the meals you’re going to have, then write a list of all their constituents or ingredients. Then, you walk around the house to see if anything else is running low, and add that to the list. Then, we head off to the supermarket and buy everything we’ve written down.

If you’ve ever shopped like this you’ll know it can be quite effective, especially if you’re working to a limited budget or special dietary needs. However, often, something will happen at the supermarket that invites you away from such a rigid process…. For example, you see the most beautiful bunch of grapes…

Example – An acausal way to shop – inviting in Kairos…

If we look more closely at the image of Kairos we see three more important features

  • He is carrying scales
  • He has his hand on one side of the scales, so that the balance is his way
  • He is balancing the scales on a razor

Based on this, I offer clients a four step process – stopping, dancing, balancing, acting.

Stopping – This is really an invitation to develop a regular meditation practice. However, as a minimum, before heading off to the supermarket there needs to be a degree of harmony, of breathing from the abdomen, of mindfulness. I refer to the balance in Kairos’s hand as a reminder.

Playing/Dancing – here’s where the fun starts. This is the dance around the supermarket. Of course you’ll need to attend to your ‘basic shop’. But can you ‘feel a pull’ today, towards, say a particular shelf or counter? Are you salivating at that head of broccoli or interested in that jar of chilli jam? Where would the trolley want to go? Missing out some aisles perhaps? Doubling back along others? Did you really smell that bread?

And what other feelings are arising? Boredom amongst the breakfast cereal? Gratitude at the fish counter?

There is an analogy here in the ‘leading’ that Quakers may feel during Waiting Worship – we can wait and listen and value what is felt.

This doesn’t mean simply putting all these interesting items in your trolley! At this stage we are just ensuring that our felt, qualitative version of the process is at least available to us. And that we are available to the process.

You may well ask “But won’t I just end up with lots of weird stuff and sweet stuff at the checkout, and just over-spend?” Well, you may do if you just went with the dance and bought whatever you’re led to. But this is where the next steps are important – balancing & deciding.

Thinking/Measuring/Balancing – here’s where you get to be the grown-up (from a TA perspective this is about deploying integrated Adult and Nurturing Parent ego states). Kairos offers us the scales with which to measure and weigh options. Although he has a hand on one side of the scales and would invite you (all other things being equal) to come down on his side, the scales are held out in front, preceding his forelock, preceding this opportunity. You are invited to consider, to weigh, to balance, to think.decision

At the supermarket, maybe that cream cake is attractive. But you already have one in your trolley. If you were dealing with an eight-year old you might say “OK, but if you choose that cake you’ll need to put the other one back”.

Effective thinking requires information. Which information is important depends on the project you’re working with or the opportunity Kairos is offering whether it be career, relationships, moving home or whatever. At the supermarket the information is likely to be around budgeting, value and nutritional content. And you wouldn’t buy ice-cream if you have a three-hour journey home.

There is a risk with this thinking and measuring and balancing because it’s fairly easy to convince yourself out of following Kairos’s direction – like ‘well I’m not sure…’ or ‘will I like it?’ or ‘what will they think?’. From a TA viewpoint this is getting stuck in scripty parenting styles (ego state P1) where we replay internal messages like;

  • ‘I don’t deserve it’
  • ‘That’s not for the likes of me’
  • ‘Who do I think I am?’
  • ‘That’ll never work’
  • ‘I just can’t decide’
  • ‘They’ll say I’m silly’

None of this is rationalising. These doubts may seem rational like ‘It’s a waste of money if I they won’t eat it’. But if it’s within budget and nutritionally OK and you want it from a deeper place then go with the Kairos.

At this point, it’s worth knowing about physis, or the Universal impulse to grow. Universal Process invites each of us to move towards a more autonomous and enlightened place characterised by increasing awareness, intimacy and spontaneity. The growthful energy within each of us is irreversible and constantly moves us forward (think of a germinating seed or a growing child – living things never go ‘into reverse’). From an external viewpoint physis may not look like a tendency to normalisation. However, when Kairos is presenting an opportunity you will not be being invited to do something irrational or harmful.

If you feel the urge to

  • Harm someone or potentially harm someone in some way
  • Harm yourself in some way or potentially harm yourself in some way

Then these are not urges to seize opportunity presented by Universal Process (In TA, they are outdated script messages from P1). Kairos invites action on our part in line with our growthful tendency, or individual physis.

At the supermarket, if you have an urge to buy your first-ever liver or linguine, and you’ve checked that it’s nutritionally OK for everyone and within budget then this is part of your growthful direction in this season of your life. Your family may look surprised. Internally you may question your boldness – these are simply more internal, script messages (P1). Physis may not look like ‘normal’ but greater things are happening. On the other hand, if the linguine is going to take you over budget this is an Adult block. If the liver is going to knowingly invite an allergic reaction there needs to be a nurturative block. In these cases, the urge was not a call of Kairos in the first place. Physis is not characterised by struggle with real-world limitations.

Deciding/Acting/Cutting – In his hand, the hand held out towards you, Kairos holds a razor. When we cut, when we use scissors, or make an incision or an excision, we permanently let go of all the alternatives except the one we are choosing. Decisions are just the same, we drop the thinking about options and act. A hairdresser makes hundreds of irreversible decisions with their scissors each day!

Everything so far has been hypothetical. Now, Kairos invites action. Failing to grasp his forelock is to lose the opportunity. He will soon be gone.

Kairos Flowchart

The example at the supermarket may seem superficial but these types of situation involve ‘smaller’ outcomes so they are a great way to practice tuning into Kairos. Similar situations may be

  • Decorating your home.
  • What you create in your garden
  • How to spend a weekend off or where to go on holiday
  • Choosing a gift for someone
  • Deciding what to wear – watch out for the P1 messages here. What you wear is very public so invitations to normalise (P1) will be strong. “What will they think if I wear the purple?” Over-compliance may not take you forward. But then, over-rebelliousness may also be a risk because effectiveness in certain situations (e.g. in business) may mean some ‘towing the line’ (In TA terms, allow your integrated Adult to monitor your compliant/rebellious adapted child ego states).

At a universal level, there is no difference in the process whether the outcomes are ‘small’ or ‘big’. Physis operates in the same way for a dandelion seed as for an acorn. From our perspective, some situations may invite greater dread and this worry operates against the stopping and playful/dancing stages. After some practice the Kairos Approach is useful in ‘Bigger’ situations too, like

  • Making career decisions
  • Deciding where to live/relocate
  • Starting or changing a business
  • Beginning or making a change in a relationship

Getting support with ‘following your heart’.

decidedAt different places above I have used references to Transactional Analysis or ‘TA’. This is a powerful model of communication, relating and psychotherapy that can help in many ways when people feel stuck or when faced with difficult challenges.

If you’re feeling like some support in this area could be useful contact me to arrange an introductory meeting where we can explore what’s happening for you in this life season.


Understanding Ourselves

Can someone really ‘make you feel’ bad?

Someone says some harsh words to me. Immediately, I feel bad. The causal link seems so easy to see – they ‘made me feel’ bad. But is it really that simple?

Feelings 101

I go to see my family and they are all together when I arrive. I enter and announce “Hey everyone, I’ve got tickets to Paris!” How do I ‘make them feel’?

  • My sister feels excited (she’s never been to Paris before)
  • My mum feels sad (my grandfather died just after their last visit to Paris)
  • My brother feels scare (he hates flying)
  • My dad feels anger (when I arrived, he was just showing everyone his new camera)

Did I really ‘make’ all this happen? My intention, my invitation was that people would feel happy or joyful. But it seems like I don’t have that much control over the situation.

Each of my family members has a unique part of themselves that they are bringing to the situation. I may ‘intend’ or ‘invite’ happiness, but each individual responds to my intention in a unique way. If I believe I’m going to ‘make them all feel happy’ then that’s quite a grandiose idea which discounts the individuality of my family members.

I know now that ‘taking control’ of everyone’s feelings, setting out to please them all, is not the way. A better approach is to check in advance who would like to visit Paris with me.

Similarly, if someone believes they can ‘make me feel hurt’ by what they say to me then that too is grandiose. It discounts an individual part of me that may deal with what I hear in a very individual way.

The sound that reaches me from the voice of another is a short period of pressure waves in the air between us. How can that be so impactful? It’s comparable to the sound of a passing car or a ‘phone ringing.

When I hear someone say something intended to hurt I could respond to these pressure waves in the air by;

  • accepting the invitation i.e. responding like I did when I was a lot younger, feel small, feel threatened and feel one-down like I was used to doing back then. I may show this in my face and my posture. I may feel about seven years old! This also shows the other person that I’ve accepted their invitation
  • responding with ‘intimacy’ i.e. recognising that I’ve been invited to feel small but staying with “…it’s like you want me to feel small around you but…” or more angrily “How dare you use that voice with me…”.

Strong invitations to ‘feel bad’ are harder to refuse. Very threatening words may offer strong invitation to feel fear.  This invitation to feel authentic fear is useful – here’s some information about an imminent risk. Effectiveness means finding a way to escape unharmed then avoiding any future threat. An ‘intimate’ response like “I feel really scared when you say…” or “…it’s like you want me to be sacred right now” may discount my safety and may not be the only option to consider in the heat of the situation. Playing ‘small’ might be a more effective way through, but ideally this is happening decisionally, ‘in awareness’ rather than from a reactive, one-down position.

If we automatically respond with a one-down, I’m not OK, ‘feeling bad’ response to what people say we’re probably reinforcing decisions we made early on in life. These decisions were made at an unconscious level and way back in childhood. In early family the decisions were childlike ways to ‘keep myself safely attached’ to the early family setting. But these early decisions are not so useful in the adult world. Recognising that there are other more adult and intimate responses available to the invitation means that we have options.

Responding with the other, more intimate options that keep us ‘OK’ in the situation takes some practice. But simply to recognise that the other options exist challenges the idea that others can ‘make me feel’ bad.

In situations such as office bullying, the bully believes (out of awareness) they can ‘make their victim feel bad’ by what they say to them. And the victim believes (out of awareness) that the bully can ‘make them feel bad’ by saying things. Both beliefs are inaccurate, but each keeps the other in place. Both people give the other person evidence that their beliefs are true. Their beliefs and behaviours interlock. Bullies don’t pick on people who choose not to reinforce their beliefs. Either party may break the deadlock by resorting to intimacy;

  • Victim; “It’s like you want me to feel small right now, but that’s not happening. Let’s talk about what each of us needs…” or (angrily) “How dare you speak to me in this way…”
  • Bully; “Sometimes, when I speak, I see you shrink before me…and I wonder what’s happening for you at that time?…”

These ideas are part of Taibi Kahler’s powerful Process Communication Model. The model points to four ‘myths’ around communication which appear as two pairs;

One-Up myth One-Down myth
Feeling I can make you feel bad by what I say to you (Persecutor) You can make me feel bad by what you say to me (Victim)
Thinking I can make you feel good by doing your thinking for you (Rescuer) You can make me feel good by doing my thinking for me (Victim)

The ‘Persecutor-Rescuer-Victim’ labels come from Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle. These four ‘myths’ are Child contaminations of our Adult ego state and hence, technically, delusional.

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)?
Feelings 101

Understanding Ourselves

Looking more closely at ‘Can’t’

Let’s suppose I’m really scared about that presentation at the team meeting. When discussing my difficulties with making the presentation it’s tempting to say “I can’t do it, I just can’t…”

Feelings 101

My performance at the meeting may be a source of real worry. Here’s an idea that can move things on a little. It’s not, by itself, a complete way through, but it does reframe the problem in a way a therapist may approach it.

Is it possible to contact two different parts of an ongoing dialogue;

  • One part that says “I really have to/need to/should do that presentation”
  • One part that says “I fear scared”

No wonder this presentation is taking up so much psychic energy! There’s a really tiring battle going on between these two parts of me.

Now ‘can’t’ implies that something isn’t possible. Here is a list of the types of people who really would find it impossible, who really can’t do the presentation at your team meeting;

  • People who have had extensive throat surgery (and are left with no voice)
  • People half way around the World (because they wouldn’t be able to get there in time)
  • People on life support….

…OK, you get the idea. It’s more accurate to say “When I have a presentation to give, a part of me feels scare” than “I can’t do a presentation”. Of course this isn’t a complete way through the problem, but it begins to get some accuracy about what’s going on.

If there are two parts of you battling with a ‘can’t’ then each of them really needs to be heard in full. That way you can begin to work towards a resolution.

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 resolving the conflict between these two parts of yourself 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)?

Feelings 101

Understanding Ourselves

Beginning to Talk about Feelings

Feelings are natural reactions. Just like hunger or thirst, if we didn’t need them our bodies wouldn’t do all the physical/hormonal parts so effectively, consistently or universally.

Feelings 101

Like hunger or thirst, our feelings are offering us information. Think of this information system as an old-fashioned ‘dashboard’ telling you, in a pre-historic, chemical way, what’s happening.

Getting by without doing a lot of ‘feeling’ is possible but you could be missing useful information.

‘Talking Feelings’ is passing on this information to someone else

‘Naming’ feelings, getting a language for the feelings you are able to contact, is a good way to begin. If people hadn’t had lots of feelings over the millennia we wouldn’t have so many words like ‘hurt’, ‘frustrated’, ‘excited’…

Start by naming the somatic feelings you have as they arise – hungry, tired…

When the feelings arise, can you say the words e.g. “I feel hungry” or “I feel tired” to yourself? What’s it like when you say that to yourself?

How about saying your feelings out loud, maybe into the mirror, or to someone else? When you say “I feel really tired”, you’ve just passed some information about yourself to someone else.

When the feelings arise, can you say the words “I feel sad” or “I feel frustrated” to yourself? What’s it like to say that to yourself? Again this is information about how you’re reacting to the circumstances you find yourself in.

How about saying your feelings out loud, maybe into the mirror, or to someone else? When you say “I feel a little sad today” you may experience a ‘kick back’, a sense of shame or dread at having said this to another. Perhaps there is a sense of ‘being weak’ or a sense of some risk about ‘where all this might lead’. These secondary feelings are simply more feelings arising in The River of Feelings. Observe them and treat them gently. And if expressing your feelings like this seems too uncomfortable, go back to your old ways for a while.

It may be tempting to use expressions that keep a distance between you and your feelings like “This makes me tired” or “It’s a sad film” rather than “I feel tired”, “I feel sad.”

When you say ‘a sad film’ you’re saying that the film has invited sadness in you and you feel sad. Remember, saying “I feel sad watching this film…” is giving some information about yourself. You’re not inviting anyone to fix your sadness, or saying you want to switch off the film. And it’s OK to give that information.

What you might be noticing is that none of this has hurt you. None of it has hurt anyone. You may have noticed that all this is quite safe.

Feelings 101

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)?

Understanding Ourselves

Depression – a very personal weight

What happened to your old energy? The energy that moved you through the day. The energy that made things easy, and stopped things ‘just piling up’.  What happened to the days that left you with an appetite, the days which tired you and made you ready for sleep. What happened to days when you were out in the World and meeting people? What happened to the days when doing things was worthwhile, when there was a point to Life?

When these thoughts, feelings and behaviours persist or recur we, or others, start using words like ‘depressed’. You may even have been given a diagnosis of ‘Depression’.

Depression is a very personal weight. You may experience agitation or be consistently flat. You may be sleeping poorly, or sleeping all the time. You may have little appetite, or be eating more. People report a wide range of behaviours, thoughts and feelings.

The causes of your depression will be just as personal. There may well be underlying causes stretching way back into childhood, yet more immediate triggers like a recent loss or accident.

Counselling is a way to explore your depression in a safe and confidential environment. Your very personal and unique thoughts and feelings can be heard with empathy and acceptance. Counselling offers you a personal way through.

And in the meantime, whilst the benefits of a counselling approach are being built, there are things you can do to ease the pain – coping startegies.

Coping strategies

The coping strategies around depression involve doing things – which can be quite a challenge. But activation is the key to coping. This self-activation is going to invite more positive feelings. Not doing is a way to keep the depression in place. Only one person can do your doing, and that’s you. Your symptoms will ease when you decide to do some doing. A positive cycle follows, where more doing is then an option.

  • Exercise increases our energy levels and acts to regulates our appetite and sleeping. Taking a twenty minute walk is a very positive decision to make. But even if walking isn’t a possibility, being outside is a step forward. What’s also useful is a certain ‘way of being’ when you’re out there. Can you shift your frame of reference from an ‘internal’ going-over the same old thoughts & feelings to ‘noticing’ what’s around you in your outdoors environment?
  • Connect with others – connect with someone who, generally, has a higher energy level than you. Meeting is best, but a short ‘phone call or even a text message can be useful. Remember, this is an opportunity to ask about them, and their life too. Again, the focus is away from your persistent thoughts and feelings.
  • You deserve to have positive experiences – allow yourself to have them! Meeting a friend for a chat, a new zingy shower gel, a long soak in the bath, seeing the latest film…
  • The outer layers of our lives – our garden, our home, our bedding, our clothes, our hair – are what we offer to the World first. Keeping on top of these things invites feelings of being OK. Letting them slip invites feelings of being ‘not OK’.
  • Watch out for those widespread psychoactive substances that impact mood – tobacco, alcohol and caffeine need to be used carefully if your mood is low or you’re experiencing anxiety. Street drugs can be even more impactful.
  • If your GP has prescribed medication for your depression then this is also a useful coping strategy.
  • Making any decision to help yourself – whatever that means for you – breaks the cycle of negativity.

Getting to the cause of your persistent or recurring low mood

As stated above, counselling is a way to explore your depression in a safe and confidential environment. Your unique experience of depression can be heard with empathy and acceptance, offering you a personal way through. 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)?

Understanding Ourselves

Feelings in our Early Family

Some authentic feelings may have been forbidden in early family life. Other feelings (or ‘Racket Feelings’) may have been allowed as replacements for the ones that weren’t allowed.

Feelings 101

Some feelings were forbidden

In family situations it is likely that expressing some or all of our authentic feelings is just not acceptable.

So, a little boy brought-up hearing ‘Big boys don’t cry’ may have difficulty expressing sadness as an adult. But how does this work?

The existential position of infants is precarious indeed. They are dependent for everything they need on two adults who are enormous (6ft), highly functioning, (often) working together and who have the power to withdraw at any time. This withdrawal is perceived as ‘fatal’ to the infant.

Infants make decisions about how the World works based on little real-life information and, what’s more, they have few opportunities to reality-test their ideas. Older siblings, as well as younger ones, are a further complexity.

If I lose my favourite toy and, quite naturally, cry then I’m expressing an authentic sadness. But how will my parents respond? If they appear to move away (because maybe my constant feeling is getting too much around here) or tell me in a harsh voice to “Shut Up!” then the problem of the lost toy needs to be balanced against the existential dread of abandonment by my caregivers. I decide that expressing sadness could be ‘fatal’.

Later, the verbal message “Big boys don’t cry” would reinforce my earlier decision.

Anger is similarly often unacceptable in family situations.

Other feelings were allowed – Racket Feelings

Families have ways around not allowing themselves to do authentic feelings. There are usually inauthentic feelings that are allowed instead. In Transactional Analysis these are known as ‘racket feelings’.

Say my big brother is hitting me – then anger would be the authentic feeling and may well get the problem solved. However, the more I escalate my anger the more it seems to upset my parents and the more anxious they get.

So, anger is risky because it means my parents are unsupportive, distanced and troubled by it. What they show me though is that ‘anxiety’ is OK and, if I do anxiety, they seem to know what I’m about and give me a cuddle to soothe me.

The cuddle feels good, but that doesn’t stop my brother from hitting me. He hasn’t experienced me expressing my needs in a direct way and this problem remains unsolved.

If we fast forward to me experiencing bullying at work some twenty years later then you’d expect me to be angry at the office bully who pokes fun in the rest room. But my anger is disconnected, cut off. I don’t even seem to hold it as an option in the way some others might. My early decision to not feel anger (or risk a fatal abandonment) is still in effect. Instead I feel and show anxiety in the rest room, which doesn’t solve the problem.

It’s worth knowing that feelings of anger, sadness or fear can be racket feelings covering an authentic feeling. For example, if anger wasn’t allowed in the family but sadness was allowed, then we might cry when we are angered. This is indeed quite a common racket feeling response.

Feelings 101

Getting help 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)?

Understanding Ourselves

Saving ‘Feelings’ Stamps

Psychological Trading Stamps
The TA Model of ‘Psychological Trading Stamps’

Are you old enough to remember Green Shield stamps or Coop stamps? Each time we made a purchase in a certain shop, we were given a sticky stamp to stick in a savings book. When the book was full of stamps we could hand-in the full book to get a discount off our next purchase. They were a ‘loyalty’ idea before today’s electronic loyalty cards, where we save points instead.

The ‘savings stamps’ model can also be applied to our feelings. What we may do is save a stamp for a particular feeling, instead of expressing it.

So, someone may save ‘anger’ stamps rather than expressing their anger. Someone else may save ‘not heard’ stamps rather than feeling and expressing their sense of not being heard with e.g. “It’s like you couldn’t hear what I was saying in the meeting… what was happening for you when I was talking about…”

The difficulty comes when we have built up a collection of our familiar stamps. What to do with them? How to ‘cash them in’ to get rid of them?

Suppose I had a run-in with my manger today which invited feelings of anger. The feelings of anger indicate there is a problem here between us that needs to be fixed. Yet, instead of expressing that anger and negotiating a solution, I saved an ‘anger stamp’.

The ‘benefit’ of saving the stamp is that I coped, and didn’t fall out with my manager. This keeps things as they are between us rather than ‘upsetting the applecart’.

But now I have a stamp in my book. What I may do is ‘cash-in’ the stamp when I get home,  getting cross with the cat for running in front of me, or taking it out on my partner for some minor ‘fault’. This gets rid of the ‘anger stamp’. But note the following two problems with this process;

  • I’ve damaged my relationship with my partner who may now feel confused or upset by my behaviour
  • I didn’t solve the initial problem that has arisen with my line-manager

Instead of ‘cashing in’ the anger stamp when I got home I could have kept it in my collection for later. This is a way to build quite a big collection. And I may be able to keep hold of this collection for years before ‘cashing it in’ in a spectacular rage with someone or something who, again, may well not be involved.

Remaining aware of our feelings, becoming aware of the information they are offering then expressing them is the effective way through. It moves us on in relationships where there is a problem, and maintains relationships which are not related to the problem.

Feelings 101

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 expressing feelings, rather than saving them up, 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)?

Understanding Ourselves

The River of Feelings

This is an idea borrowed from Buddhism with a little help from Transactional Analysis.

Take the Feelings 101

Imagine standing by a river which is flowing from left to right.

On the left, feelings arise and come to the water’s surface, they flow past us then, somewhere to the right, they disappear in the stream. There is a constant flow of feelings arising, flowing by, then disappearing.

Our inner World of feelings is just like that.

Our feelings are like the weather. There is never a time without weather. The weather is never ‘gone’. Rather, it changes from one thing to another – A bright dawn, a raging storm, ‘heavy’ clouds, a clear night…

As we stand by the River of Feelings the water never ceases and feelings arise, flow by and disappear only to be replaced by the next feeling, and the next… This moment sadness, this moment boredom, this moment restless, this moment resigned, this moment cheerful…

Some weather is pleasant weather, some weather is harsh weather. And we use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’. With feelings too, some feelings are easier to experience than others.

As we stand by the River of Feelings we can choose to;

  • Not look at the river, not look at the feelings flowing by, but instead look way across the river to the other bank or, even further, to the horizon (see 1. below)
  • Notice a particular feeling flowing by, get so ‘hooked’ by it we lose our footing and ‘dive in’ after the feeling (see 2. below)
  • Simply choose to ‘just observe’ the feelings flowing by. (see 3. below)

Are any of these three approaches to ‘doing’ our feelings familiar to you?

The River of Feelings – 1. Being Strong

If ‘doing’ feelings was something that wasn’t really ‘stroked’ when we were growing up it might be easiest not to look into the river too much. We may have learnt that –

  • Having feelings makes us weak
  • We should stay ‘in control’ of our feelings
  • If we show our feelings then it will make others feel bad
  • Our feelings would be overwhelming – like a genie, once they’re out of the bottle we’re in trouble.

If we have early-life decisions about ‘not feeling’ then feelings may start to ‘leak’ around the edges. These ‘leaks’ of feeling may show up –

  • By ‘somatisation’ – e.g. instead of feeling sad at losing someone close we may experience chest pain (‘feeling broken hearted’). Physical feelings can be more ‘acceptable’ to us.
  • When there is an enormous invitation to ‘feel’ e.g. losing a parent or being physically threatened, the invitation to ‘look into the river’ has a higher voltage and the feelings may ‘leak’.
  • When we’re more ‘off guard’ e.g. drifting into sleep, during dreams or as we awake.
  • When a highly-functioning individual arrives in therapy asking ‘Am I going mad?’

Putting feelings aside can be a useful coping strategy sometimes. If you are a paramedic who attends the scene of a road accident or a soldier who is injured in combat the most effective may through may be to suspend your most natural reactions to feel e.g. sickened or fearful. However, too much of this can be costly.

When we meet someone who has difficulty looking into the river of feelings we need to be with them compassionately. Early decisions about ‘not feeling’ are not easy for this person to override. ‘Beginning to feel’ may be a frightening experience.

However, there is a benefit to overcoming this and being able to observe the river of feelings as the feelings flow by – The information that each feeling offers us becomes available to inform our decisions and choices from moment to moment.

The River of Feelings – 2. Diving In

For those who are more aware of the River of Feelings flowing in front of them there is another way to lose the benefit of the information that our feelings are offering us – ‘diving in’ after the feelings and getting all tangled-up in them.

I get into work and see a colleague using my desk & chair. I feel ‘cheated’.

This is giving me some information about a resource I call ‘mine’ which ‘another’ appears to be denying me. Within this organisational structure a boundary has been crossed and, in order to continue in my role effectively, I need a resolution. The boundary gives us a clue that ‘cheated’ is a fancy flavour of small-to-medium size ‘angry’. An effective solution is to approach this colleague, ask what they need, state what I need and negotiate a solution. Something like; “Yes, of course it’s fine to make your call but I have to make a start so you’ll need to stand.” 

However, suppose I have beliefs like “They always just take what they want” or “You can’t trust them”, this ‘cheated’ feeling may resonate with something very old. Perhaps I was the youngest sibling in a family where there wasn’t ever enough to go around.

I start to run with it. “This colleague confirms everything I knew about people… And I’ve a good mind to tell my boss, not that she’ll do anything, she’s as bad as the rest… if he hasn’t gone by the time I get back from the coffee machine I’ll…”

This feeling is only too clearly felt. I invite it into my whole being, I’m drowning in it. I’m clinging onto the ‘cheated’ feeling and being washed downstream. Importantly –

  • The information that the feeling offers me (about a boundary being crossed) is being missed. Instead, I’m using it to reinforce very generalised & outdated views of ‘how the World is’ and how I fit into it.
  • My thinking has been suspended – sure, my ‘cognitive process’ is running but real problem-solving from a rational place is ‘on hold’. So I’m less likely to get what I need, and less likely to see how good I am at fixing these sorts of situation.

When we meet someone who is drowning in the River of Feelings we need to be with them compassionately. Early decisions about ‘how the World is’ and ‘how I fit into it’ are not easy for this person to override. Beginning to think and feel at the same time may be very challenging.

The River of Feelings – 3. The Way Through – observing our feelings.

Standing by the River of Feelings and simply observing the feelings as they arise, flow past then disappear is the way through. Imagine watching the weather through the window. There’s no need to look away, or get all ‘caught up’ in what we see.

To experience at least the more weighty feelings then, if necessary, use the information that the feeling are offering is an effective way to be in the World.

Here’s some information that you may not know – We can Think and Feel at the same time. Just as we can watch the weather, and decide that the best course of action is to wear a warm coat, or hang out our laundry in the breeze. These are good decisions based on what we’re experiencing.

It is possible to experience a feeling and remain able to ‘think’ whilst it’s going on. Many people do this. By ‘thinking’ here we mean actual problem-solving, not just cognitive background.

It may take some practice to contact the majority of feelings as they flow by and use the information they offer. Mindfulness or relaxation techniques can help develop this skill.

Take the Feelings 101

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)?

Understanding Ourselves

Take the ‘Feelings 101’

Would you like to understand your feelings better? Perhaps you have questions like;

  • Why do I always end up feeling this way?
  • Why won’t this feeling just ‘go away’?
  • Why should I feel like this now? I’ve been it some tough situations, and they were no problem to me.
  • What’s the point of feeling bad? Don’t I just need to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull myself together’?
  • Am I going mad? I didn’t used to respond like this.
  • Will I ever feel better? I feel so hopeless.
  • Will I ever feel better? No one can bring back such a special person. 

Take the Feelings 101

It may be that, back in our early family situations, ‘doing’ lots of feeling wasn’t especially welcome. And in many contemporary Western settings, bringing our feelings to situations with work colleagues, neighbours and community, friends or family may not be the most ‘acceptable’ way forward.

Yet our feelings are a natural internal response to our experiences and the circumstances we find ourselves in. Ignoring them or ‘pushing them away’ potentially misses the information they are offering about our current reality.

As we begin to understand, contact, explore and express our feelings we find that;

  • They’re a useful source of information
  • We’re less ‘on autopilot’ and respond more to here-and-now reality
  • We’re more aware of what we need
  • We take more care of ourselves
  • We’re more ‘in contact’ with other people
  • We’re able to be more spontaneous

This ‘Feelings 101’ or Introduction to Feelings is a number of pages that look at ideas like;

  • What our feelings are
  • Why we have feelings
  • What feelings mean
  • How our feelings work
  • How to get started, and do more with feelings
  • Why we have bad feelings
  • Why we have some bad feelings over and over
  • How we can have fewer of these recurring bad feelings

The articles link together. But clicking on the ‘Feelings 101’ logo will always bring you back to this start page.

Take the Feelings 101

A useful way to ‘take the Feelings 101’ is to read each article in order from this list below. However, each article is written to ‘stand alone’ and you might want to dip into the ones that seem most interesting.

Take the ‘Feelings 101’ and make a start with your feelings!

  1. Getting Started – Somatic Feelings and Authentic Feelings – great sources of information
  2. The River of Feelings – Looking Away, Diving In or Just Watching
  3. Saving ‘Feelings’ Stamps
  4. Feelings in our Early Family – Some feelings were allowed, other feelings were not
  5. Beginning to Talk About Feelings
  6. Looking More Closely at ‘Can’t’
  7. Can someone really ‘make me feel bad’ by what they say to me?

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)?


Understanding Ourselves

Authentic Feelings – a great source of information

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!

Take the Feelings 101

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.

Take the Feelings 101

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)?