Are we our feelings, or we just have them? Sometimes it seems that we are made of them. Feelings pervade our every day lives. How do we manage them and how we use them or abuse them? We have good feelings and bad feelings. When we feel good we appear to be a totally different person than when we feel bad. How do we manage them and how we use them or abuse them? This is the subject of today’s article.
We feel and express our emotions all day long. Whether we communicate them by words or behavior, we make sure other people know how we feel. Or do we? We also try to hide our feelings for different reasons, be it fear, polite social conduct, inappropriateness of the moment, strategizing, etc.
It has been shown that if connecting pathways in our brain, from the limbic system and amygdala in particular (the emotional center of the brain) are severed, a person is completely unable to make any decisions at all. So, emotions seem to be an inseparable part of our everyday experience, and for good reason, as you can see.
How is it then, that these same emotions often make our lives miserable? Can we do anything about it? Let’s first see how emotions play out in our relationships and if there are any differences in their influence on people’s lives.
One way to approach this issue is to make a simple distinction between horizontal and vertical differences as to how people manage their emotions. Horizontal refers to people who are mostly on automatic, express their emotions without a second thought, or on the other hand, hide their emotions out of fear. There also seems to be a natural and considerable difference between male and female feeling management, with which we will be more concerned here.
Vertical differences are more concerned with the level of awareness, our ability to observe ourselves objectively, our emotional intelligence and level of personal development.
I would like also to distinguish the difference between feelings and emotions, i.e., between feeling something and emoting it. This distinction may not be completely accurate, but it certainly is very useful: feelings are an internal affair while emotions are a behavioral issue. Our feelings are “felt” in our bodies as an energy field, in our plexus area, our throat, our limbs, our head, etc. Feelings are constrained within the parameters of our body; they are ours. When, on the other hand, we act upon our feelings, we show emotions, we emote, we cry, laugh, smash things in anger, show love, etc. In other words, emotions are the expressions of our feelings.
Men and women are programmed differently the way they process their feelings. (By ‘man’ I mean masculine and by ‘woman’ I mean feminine; both genders have a mixture of both to different degrees in different situations, so do not take this personally, and at the same time it may be useful if you indeed do so.)
One of the major gender differences in the realm of feelings is that women are feeling creatures and men are rational creatures. This comes from the apparent inability of women to control what thoughts come into their mind. Since thoughts in most cases are triggers for feelings, women seem to not have control of what they may feel at any moment. Since feelings are heavily involved in the decision making process, women’s emotions may seem erratic to a man, inconsistent, illogical, inappropriate, thoughtless, etc, (add your own if you are a man.) That’s why it is thought that it is in a woman’s nature to change her mind often! No wonder this drives men insane, but to a woman it is quite “logical and reasonable”.
If you were to pay attention to the difference between a man and a woman’s vocabulary, you may notice that women use the verb “to feel” and “a feeling” as a noun much more often then men. Guess why: Because feelings are much more important for women than for men. That does not mean that men do not have feelings, as many women presume that men are deficient in the feeling department. In fact, men have just as many feelings as women; they just manage them differently. Men, being hunters by nature, cannot afford to have emotions freely expressed while stalking a deer, because the deer will escape, thus no food for that week. Men are much better at keeping a single focus and not allowing unwanted thoughts to enter their minds. (See The Gameless Relationship.) On the other hand, a constant broad view and diffused focus allowing everything to come into the sphere of a woman’s awareness was a means of survival in a hostile environment millennia ago. Thus, a man’s relationship to feelings is different than a woman’s, and although largely incomprehensible to the opposite sex, is equally useful as a survival tool. This is one of the reasons why a couple’s chance of survival is much higher than a single person’s (not to mention reproduction opportunities).
In our relationships, our roles have been determined by thousands of years of evolution. Just because we have lived in “modern times” for relatively few years does not free us from our genetically programmed roles. We, for instance, often hear of late that women want a ‘sensitive man’. The moment a man becomes ‘sensitive’ a woman does not like him any more because he is not ‘man enough’. I see it too often in my practice. A whole new language has developed about this, like “we are pregnant”, not uttered by two women, but by a man in a marriage. Many questions come to my mind such as, “How did these men get pregnant?”
What a woman means by wanting a sensitive man is one who is able to perceive what she is feeling. Men are practical. They want to solve problems, not listen to someone’s outpouring of feelings about an issue. It is important for both sexes to educate themselves on the gender differences. Many relationships could be saved if only we knew some of these secrets. Why they are still secrets, beats me. After all the knowledge we have accumulated, most people seem to be ignorant about this subject.
So, why did I title this article Selfish Feelings? It is about the vertical differences of emotional management. Feelings are very personal and particular to everyone and for every situation, yet we use and abuse our feelings to express our emotions in order to manipulate, blame, credit, create guilt in others, etc. Granted, we often do it without even being aware of it. Two year olds may be forgiven for doing it unconsciously (although I’m not sure that it always unconscious even at that age) but with adults it is a sign of being irresponsible and unaware or mindless. Not being responsible for your emotions can be very destructive for a relationship. You cannot have your emotions run rampant and dump your feelings onto others whenever you “feel like it”. It is a sign of infantile behavior not suited to fully developed adults. I hope you realize that to be only concerned about how you feel, how others feel about you, or how you want them to feel or not to feel about anything or anybody else, including themselves, is simply selfish. This world does not revolve around you although it may seem like it to you. Such egocentric behavior is natural for children at a certain developmental level. It is time to realize that a human being can go through higher levels of development past the egocentric, namely ethno-centric, world-centric, cosmo-centric and further, which we are yet to discover.
So, whether you are a man or a woman, it may be time to start working, if you already haven’t, on becoming self-aware instead of being selfishly self-conscious and notice where your selfish feelings are at work and are inappropriate.
Feelings are such a huge subject that I’m sure we will return to it. In the meantime please post your comments, thoughts and questions so that we can learn from each other.