I am my feelings / "I feel therefore I am": Stage 3 of our Journey


This stage "I am my feelings" feels like a drastic change from the prior stage. Emotions are the sole universal language. It spans across all cultures and societies. It is quite extraordinary when you think about it, so why do we not give much attention to our emotions? It stems from receiving negative signals / messages early on in life that it was not ok to feel and express our emotions (i.e. parented and taught from Stage 1 or 2 parents and society). Therefore, we slowly adapted to operate out of our heads instead of our hearts. We were born with an innate ability to feel and interpret others feelings. To grow into this stage, we must awaken to the language of emotions which can feel both thrilling and terrifying. Because to become aware of our emotions requires us to actually feel our emotions. It can be very intense at first to allow yourself to actually feel. Usually, it has been so long since we opened ourselves to our emotional world that we at first feel off center or overly dramatic. The other layer is then sharing what you feel with others. This is where the rubber meets the road. It puts words to senses / feelings we didn't quite know how to name. If we didn't grow up using the language of emotions, we would not know it is ok and healthy to say "I am sad" or "I feel hurt". This is usually where our attachment styles begin to show up and interfere with emotional connection.  A marker of a dysfunctional relationship is not being able to freely share your emotions nor being able to hear / receive what another feels.

Friel and Friel wrote a great deal on the language of emotions in the 1980's. In their book Adult Children, they wrote that our most core emotions are hurt, angry, sad, fear, shame, guilt, lonely, and glad. These emotions are neither good nor bad but just indicators that act as a compass. The reason we initially think all are negative except glad is that we have been unable to distinguish the emotions to the negative reactions we have associated to them. Anger is not violence. But anger can invoke violence. But if the family and / or society did not teach that anger does not equal violence then we will naturally confuse the two. We cannot control our emotions but we can learn to regulate them. The more we learn to live and honor our emotions, the more we can respond instead of react. Honoring our feelings is not the same as "doing what we feel like doing". We feel so we can be grounded. It is one thing to know our feelings and it is entirely different to experience them. This is the crux of what separates those in Stage 3 from Stage 2. Those who begin to allow themselves room to feel their feelings begin to grow in the capacity to sit in their emotions. Emotions provide us with the energy to live and the gift to grieve. Robert Bly said grief is the privileged emotion or the unfinished hurt. By not feeling our emotions, it keeps us from being in touch what we what we are feeling, with who we are, and what motivates us. 

The gift of emotions is that it allows us to be seen and known. Emotion in Latin means "to move" so its the musical notes to the dance of the relationship. It invites us to connect with ourselves so we can then connect with another. Emotions are a gateway to our soul in that it exposes our needs and vulnerabilities. The gift of showing and expressing them is that it allows others to see you and then connect with you. Tim Keller provides a powerful quote and paradigm as follows:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.

We see this Stage visibly in the politics of our country. This Stage tends to look like the left leaning democratic party verses right leaning in Stage 2. They tend to be more concerned with other's rights and not just their own. Ideally, one that is connected to emotions would then show more empathy but often we hide behind the emotions instead of truly feeling them. Whereby we are prone to just use the words. We saw this recently at the White House correspondence dinner where a left leaning comedian roasted someone on the right side of the political isle. The reality is that all the fighting between the two sides are still pretty immature and mean. The political parties in itself are not the problem. The problem is our interaction in the political discourse and our inability as a society to hold together two opposing views and all the while still have love and compassion for our brothers and sisters.  But, this Stage does carry one aspect that helps it be a little more evolved. The gift it brings is social justice and the ability to begin caring for others outside of one's owns tribe. 

But the shortfall of this Stage can be summed up by the phrase "I feel therefore I am". Our emotions do not equal enlightenment. If anything, it predisposes us to be to self-focused and causes us to do a lot of naval gazing. There is a great risk in being controlled by our feeling world because it causes us to be over-reliant on our emotions. The reality is that there is no way around this. We will have our emotions but will hide behind them for our benefit.  This will not change until we fully experience them and learn to not be controlled by them. I liken this to what Rohr calls "breathing under water". Initially we discover the language of emotions and are perfectly content to live by the beach and even swim in the ocean. It is not until pain and tragedy pulls us under water do we finally realize that we can breath under water. But with it comes with immense fear which will be discussed in Stage 5 and Stage 6. There is a beautiful except from Richard Rohr's daily mediations* that I want to share regarding emotions.

Bill Wilson saw the Twelve Steps finally leading to emotional sobriety. Sobriety is not just about no longer drinking. The goal is to become spiritually awakened, to have found some degree of detachment from our own emotions. Our emotions are not bad until and unless we are attached to them; they are helpful indicators and symptoms of what's going on, often subconsciously, within us. However, emotions are primarily "narcissistic reactions." They're self-referential because they are actually based in our body, not easily available to conscious control. The body carries all of our shame, guilt, childhood conditioning, and past hurts.

If we allow it, life begins to ask us to loosen our grip on our life and begin to surrender to those things we want and feel. We learn to become more connected to our bodies and our smaller self to be discussed in the next Stage. This is the necessary step to take in order to evolve and mature by learning how to sit in our emotions without letting our emotions be "the thing" leading us. This requires the ability to sit and suffer in the associated experiences by having these emotions. We begin to see in the next step that while emotions are great and helpful, they are more about us and not another. We begin to be able to see our emotions for what they really are and what they are not. They are not our be all end all. We begin to find more meaning outside our emotional world. We begin to see that our emotions are not the language of our heart, something much deeper is...that Another (i.e. Voice of God) is!

*Except from Rohr's Daily Mediations dated June 6, 2016