Feelings are everywhere — be gentle. -- J. MASAI, PHYSICIST
How can I tell you about the importance of feelings? It's like trying to tell you of the importance of the floorboards in your home. Most of the time we never really think about floorboards, but what if your home had none? There would be nothing to stand on.
The same with feelings. You rarely think about them, but like the floorboards that support you, they are your grounding, the base on which your whole life stands.
All life involves feelings, all the time. They rarely stop. The more significant a moment of life, the more intensely feelings are involved. The way you handle your feelings can allow you to soar to the stars or get stuck in the mud.
Feeling is everything. Well, almost everything. Feelings are your guide to goodness and fun, your warning of pain and danger. The whole day long they are "talking" to you: This is, fantastic! That sucks! Look at me! Get outta here quick! Watch out!
The Kinds of Feelings
There are many kinds of feelings. They can be positive or negative. That is, they can be fun or they can plunge you deeply into the no-fun zone. They can make you feel great and ready for anything or make you feel totally miserable.
Most feelings have both mental and physical manifestations. When you face a fearful situation, you might be conjuring up visions of terror and bloody disaster in your mind, while your body is doing its part as your stomach turns somersaults. Sexual feelings almost always have both physical and mental manifestations.
Feelings can be conscious or unconscious. Even the ones we are unaware of can influence how we feel at any moment.
The Range of Feelings... From Weak to Strong
Feelings can be weak or strong. That is, they can practically knock you off your feet or barely touch you at all. At one time, say if someone important to you is very sick or dies, your whole life could be overwhelmed with feelings of loss and grief. Another time, you might barely sense a feeling of irritation, when a neighbor, for example, plays the TV too loud.
Mostly, however, our feelings fall somewhere in the middle range of emotional intensity, with only minor ups and downs in our emotional roller coaster. I believe this is very important to understand, especially for men.
For most human beings, extremely strong emotions are, if not rare, certainly less common. If you've ever participated in sports or watched a game on TV, you have no doubt about men's ability to express strong emotions, both positive and negative. They are right out there for all to see. This has led some sociologists to conclude that one of the main reasons men love sports, both as spectators and participants, is that it's the only time they really feel alive. One might say, more analytically, that it is the only time some men really feel anything strongly.
Likewise, we have little trouble with the low-intensity emotions—we get along just fine dealing with the little annoyances and little joys of life.
The Middle Range or Everyday Feelings
The middle range is where we get into trouble. These are not the many feelings that often go unnoticed because of their brevity; nor are they the occasional really big ones that get full expression. These are the angers, joys, frustrations, guilts, excitements, and sadnesses that happen all the time, day-in and day-out, and are the most influential of all our feelings, especially in our relationships with other people.
Here, in the middle range, is where we falter. I think it is because we become self-conscious. The little ones don't cause any ruckus, the big ones take on a life of their own. The ones in the middle range we have to deal with.
The Primary Emotions List
Researchers argue over which emotions are primary, the ones from which all others come. Here are some candidates for the list, along with some of their relatives:
Anger: rage, resentment, hatred, violence
Grief: sorrow, gloom, loneliness, depression, sadness
Fear: anxiety, dread, fright, terror
Pleasure: happiness, joy, relief, bliss, sensuality, ecstasy
Love: friendliness, trust, kindness, infatuation
Wonder: shock, astonishment, amazement, surprise
Contempt: disdain, scorn, revulsion, aversion
Shame: guilt, embarrassment, dishonor, regret, contrition
The number and variety of feelings are endless. These are just a few of a limitless number. The list is meant to help you get into the habit of recognizing feelings and of realizing their endless variety. Read it over and see which ones you've known. From now on, you can refer to this list when you're feeling something, but can't quite figure out what you're feeling.
There's something about feelings that we have to get clear at this point. It's this: Feelings are not always logical or orderly; in fact most of the time they are illogical and disorderly.
Recall George's keen description of himself: "A big mess of stuff." That jumble of emotions—let's call it "Feelings Stew"—is most typical when we are adolescents, but it never really goes away. You can feel two opposing feelings at the very same time, and sometimes there are more than just two. Love and hate, suspicion and trust, joy and sorrow, sadness and happiness, all in the same person, all at the same moment. It happens all the time. It's conflicting emotions, self-contradictions, Feelings Stew.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself," 1855
Another thing that happens with feelings is sudden starts and stops:
• Sam really likes this particular friend one moment, and the next he feels like he can't stand him.
• Gus is totally dedicated to playing trumpet in a casual get-together band. He feels enlivened by it. One day he quits, bored with the band, and begins to spend hours on the computer looking up his family genealogy.
• Marvin is passionately involved with his stocks and bonds until, suddenly, he looses interest and becomes obsessed with his daughter's career in dancing.
As Walt Whitman implies, so what if I contradict myself? Most interesting people do!
Psychologists refer to the feeling of being overwhelmed by emotional distress as "flooding." So if you have moments when you also feel like you're having so many feelings you can't make sense out of them, like you're drowning in Feelings Stew, remember a few things: You're not alone; you're not weird; there is a basis for it in your body.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
©2004, 2011. www.redwheelweiser.com
Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings
by David Kundtz.
Written in a matter-of-fact, non-touchy-feely style, Nothing's Wrong helps men manage their feelings to build rich, emotional lives and find more satisfying relationships, improved health, and successful careers. Here's a book that truly acknowledges the bewildering effects strong emotions have on men and how men can learn to deal with them. Its plain language and examples are far from the touchy-feely tone of so many other titles in this category.
Info/Order this book.
About the Author
David Kundtz holds graduate degrees in psychology and theology and a doctoral degree in pastoral psychology. Ordained in the 1960s, he worked as an editor and pastor until he left the ministry in 1982. He is currently a licensed family therapist and the director of Berkeley California-based Inside Track Seminars, which specializes in stress management for the helping professions. Web site: www.stopping.com.