On the Corner

by Robert Docter – 

A vignette

“How ya feelin’?” she asked
“Not good!” he replied
“Oh–too bad.”

He nodded his head slowly, sadly. “How you feelin’?”
“Good!” she said with enthusiasm.
He nodded his head slowly.


Have you noticed–we tend to use words like “good” and “bad” to describe our feelings. I wonder what that means when someone says they feel “good.” The word also seems to be related to feeling “up” just as feeling “bad” tends to be associated with “down.” When someone says they feel “good,” I suspect they mean they feel “pleasant,” “safe,” “content,” “happy.” My guess is that when someone says they feel bad, they really mean they have some emotional “pain”–life is creating some tension–some unpleasantness–a part of them feels threatened.

I wonder why we have such poor feeling vocabularies. Often, we can’t seem to describe our feelings beyond “good” and “bad.” Could it be that we don’t want to deal with our feelings? Could it be that our brains talk us into believing that not paying attention to our feelings is “safer” than accepting awareness of them–that “denial,” somehow, will achieve “security”–that the “pain” will go away? Are we a battleground for cognitive processes and emotional awareness? If so, I think the brain wins hands down.

Another vignette

“So … how ya feelin’?”
“I got a monster problem!”
“Oh … gee … too bad.”
He looked at his friend, quizzically.

Often–in fact, just about all the time, when I ask someone how they are feeling, they tell me what they think. It’s almost as if the explanation of the source of the feeling is more important than awareness of the feeling. Unconsciously, we seem to need to stay vague–with ourselves and with others.

We get into serious trouble emotionally when we fail to express awareness of our feelings. We don’t communicate–like that vignette above illustrated. Neither person communicated their feelings at all. We have no idea how the guy with the problem felt about it, and the “oh, gee” guy didn’t express his sense of confusion or sadness or pleasure, either. But poor communication is only part of the difficulty. The consequences of failing to be aware of our feelings can lead to reduced social acceptance, personal confusion and/or deteriorating mental health.

We communicate feeling whether we mean to or not. This is “read” or interpreted by another party. This party provides us with some feedback or advice or at least a response based on the “read.” If we aren’t aware of our own feelings, we either accept the interpretation as accurate, get angry, become convulsed with laughter or numb-out. If we are aware of our feelings, we can provide accurate feedback concerning the interpretation.

If we don’t sense the feeling, we fail to tell the brain what it means. Sometimes, then, the brain writes its own scenario based on the meanings we locked in memory from our past experiences. For instance, someone says something which makes you feel demeaned, threatened and intimidated. A parent acted this way toward you. You begin a slow burn about which you are unaware. You fail to tell your brain anything about the angry feelings and, thus, deny their existence. In the process, the burn gets hotter and your stress level increases. Still no message to the brain about what this means in relation to this feeling. Finally, you erupt with a violent rage in a very immature manner. Had you accepted awareness of the early burn, identified its source, and clarified its meaning for you in that moment, the past would not have dictated the behavior.

I challenge each of you to identify a dozen feeling words and to speak them to yourself as you sense the feelings in your body. It’s an essential step toward mature behavior, and it’s crucial in helping others.

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