Sometimes, when I am in a counselling session with a troubled individual, I will use a question to help them get a hold of what it going on in their lives. I will say something like, “What are you feeling?” or “How did (does) that make you feel?”. A significant number of people will answer the question by saying, “I think…” and then going on to give a reasoned response that tells me two things: first, they know what they should feel and secondly, they have no idea what they personally feel. Often, I will keep asking the question, pointing out that they are giving me thoughts instead of feelings until they either tell me to stop or begin to see their feelings.
There are significant and deep connections between what we feel and what we think but they are actually two different processes and two different viewpoints. We all feel and we all think–and in the long run, it is good to know the difference between the two as well as how they are related and interact.
My feelings affect my thinking–and my thinking affects my feelings. The less I am aware of my thinking or my feeling, the more complicated the process becomes and the less I am in control of any of it. For many people, the difficulty is that we don’t recognize or acknowledge our feelings–and that opens the door for those unrecognized and unacknowledged feelings to dominate my thinking.
I am an introvert, a reality which means I tend to be uncomfortable in large groups of people. The larger the group, the more uncomfortable I feel. Unless I can be assured of a certain amount of physical and psychological space, I have serious negative feelings. So, when the possibility of going to something where there will be a lot of people, I need to take that into consideration.
If I don’t consider my initial negative feelings, I can think myself into lots of good reasons for not going: parking will be a problem; it will be late and I am tired; it will cost too much; a riot might break out; it will be a great spot for a terrorist to strike; someone there might have the flu–well, you get the idea. When I don’t take into consideration my feelings, my thinking falls into alignment with my feelings and gives me reasons for not doing (or doing) what my feelings want.
Now, when the feelings are about a crowded concert, that is one thing. But my feelings can have serious affects on all my life. If I was abused by a school teacher, I can and probably will let those feelings affect my entire view of education–especially if I repress the feelings and pretend that the abuse didn’t happen or didn’t affect me or doesn’t matter. My thinking gets distorted by the feelings that I haven’t been willing or able to deal with.
From my perspective as a pastor and occasional counsellor, the solution to the issue of feelings dominating thinking is simple. All we need to do is admit and accept our feelings. As a pastor and occasional counsellor, I recognize that this can be a very painful, difficult and time-consuming process that is anything but easy. Sometimes, it can seem to an individual to be beyond their ability, which is why God has given us pastors, counsellors and therapists of various kinds–having someone there to help us through the painful process of coming to grips with our feelings makes a real difference.
In the end, the more we recognize and understand and accept the reality of our feelings, the freer we are to actually live our lives. Rather than be guided and directed by what we don’t know and thus don’t control, we are able to think better because we know all (or at least more of) the factors that have been causing problems. We can take into account our feelings but we can also think of ways around them and ways to deal with them and reasons why the feelings can be ignored or deal with in a better way.
Asking people how they are feeling is an important part of my pastoral and counselling processes–and it can be a valuable tool for any of us. The more we understand our feelings, the freer our thought process.
May the peace of God be with you.