I don’t recall my parents talking about their feelings, but I certainly saw him express anger and her express disappointment.
Most little boys are told, “Don’t cry”, “Suck it up, be a man”, or “We don’t talk about that in this house”. And if no one taught you how to recognize the difference between hungry or horny, tired or rejected, how can you know what you need or what isn’t serving you? As much as you may have heard that “Your sponsor doesn’t want to hear your feelings”, or the meeting isn’t a play to figure out your feelings, it is VERY important work in recovery. In our addiction, our behaviours focussed on reward relief and escape. If we want to change our behaviours, we must recognize what feelings drive the behaviours. As Gabor Mate said, “Ask not why the addiction, ask why the pain.”
When working with clients about longer-term goals, I like to ask “How do you want to feel a year from now?” –
- Typically I hear answers like:
- I want to feel like everyone knows I’m here.
- I want to feel like she respects my opinion.
- I want to feel like my kids want to spend time with me
These are all statements about somebody else’s actions without acknowledgement of our own feelings or state of being. See the confusion? Even being able to use a feeling word in a sentence eludes many of us. I once suffered the same ignorance. I had to learn what I was feeling, I learned to label it, understand it, differentiate it. But how do I do this when I didn’t have the words?
And so I present to you a – a feelings wheel. Now, this was pretty overwhelming when I first saw it. There are different versions with subtle differences. Find one that resonates with you right now if this one doesn’t. You might find one that works now won’t be right for you later… One of the joys of being human – We change!
There are also lots of ways to “USE” a feelings wheel. Following a suggestion, I pulled it out of my pocket every hour and tried to complete the sentence: I feel __________ right now. Some people liked to start there day learning about one or two of the emotions and see if they came up for them. Others would end their day and try to find a word that matched. I found another tool was teen fiction – coming of age stories put words to feelings in simpler scenarios that helped me figure out what was going on.
At first, I just used the inner portion of the wheel – just 6 feelings. Really! I certainly wasn’t able to parse it down from sadness to shame or neglect. I had been using my addiction for so long that I had lost touch with who I was and what I was feeling. I had a hard time knowing if I was angry or hungry. Bored or lonely. Tired or sad. These were an early lesson in the fact that the body and mind are tied together. Trying to use only my addicted brain and never my heart was killing me.
Here’s my explanation of feelings vs emotions: Emotions are the physical reaction of our body in response to chemicals produced in the brain as a consequence of a present situation/stimulus. Feelings are the side product of your brain perceiving an emotion and assigning a certain meaning to it. Confused yet? They’re related, one can cause the other (yup – goes both ways!) but recognizing feelings and changing them is a thinking activity that most of us can start fairly soon. I recognize that this is a little different than what we normally think of when we use terms like “emotional intelligence” or “control your emotions”.
The pathway to changing my feelings needed to move from addictive practices to healthy. My response to ‘negative feelings’ was to relieve or escape through using. When I did have a ‘good feeling’, my addicted brain would reward and reinforce it – often a feedback loop of using addiction to reward for using addiction. Learning to recognize my feelings, and acknowledge my own beliefs and experiences were creating them was profound for me. That and the distinction between emotions and feelings were things I wish I had learned before I was 45! It is an ongoing process, my journey on the path of wellness (recovery).
Future blog posts will include emotions, and how all emotions and feelings show up in the body and in the brain.