How do I know what I’m feeling?
There is a wealth of evidence available which suggests that our whole bodies themselves are sense organs which communicate with us, often on an unconscious level, about our feelings. We get information about our emotions via our bodies. Similar to the way that we get visual information through our eyes, or auditory information via our ears. Our bodies tell us about our emotional reaction to situations, and they tell us things our eyes, ears and brains can’t. So although we may not be consciously aware if it most of the time, our emotions are felt via the body. This is most obvious when we are in extreme emotion – we may shake with fear, tremble with rage or convulse with grief. If you’re feeling that there is something wrong, then there is something wrong. The evidence is there in your body, and our bodies have a wisdom that is different to intellectual thought.
Your emotions matter, what you’re feeling matters. In fact it matters more than anything else. If you are able to listen to this information from your body then your feelings can guide you towards a fuller expression of who you are and towards healing and wholeness. Your feelings are not your imagination, they are real – you know this because you can feel them. It can be helpful to practice tuning in to your body when you are feeling something and notice where it lives and the sensations that are present. This is your truth. If you can come to trust this then it will serve you well. The first step is to believe that what you’re feeling matters – then you can allow this to be your guide.
Why do we minimise our feelings?
Many of us have developed the habit of dismissing what we’re feeling because we think that maybe it’s ‘just us’. We fear that it may be ‘in our head’, and may not be ‘real’. We think it may be ‘silly’ or ‘irrational’ and we might say things to ourselves like:
‘Maybe it’s just my imagination.’
‘I’d better not say anything.’
‘I don’t want to rock the boat.’
‘I don’t want to make a problem where there isn’t one.’
‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this.’
‘It doesn’t matter what I’m feeling.’
‘It’s not grown up or rational to feel like this.’
But sometimes I get upset for no reason!
Ok. Now what you are feeling is real, it matters and is important. But this doesn’t mean that what you are feeling is always related directly to what is happening around you right now – and that’s ok. That’s how human beings work. It’s not a reason to dismiss your feeling. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know why you’re feeling it – it is real and there is a reason.
What you’re feeling may relate directly to what is happening around you, or it may relate to an experience you’ve had in the past – where the emotion is still unprocessed and living in your body. Many of us carry intense fear, grief or rage from childhood experiences that we found intolerable. We had no one to go to who would listen to this pain and comfort us, so these feelings continue to live inside us, looking for an opportunity to be expressed and understood.
Whether what you are feeling is related to what is happening now or to the past, you are really feeling this – the feeling is real, and responding to it offers a way forward – either by reacting directly and appropriately to what is happening around you, or by sharing what you are feeling with someone else so that it can be supported and understood. You may choose to explore and release the emotion of past experiences in a safe place, with a therapist or in workshop, so that you no longer have to carry this.
Is it fair on those around me?
Many of us try to be very careful not to hurt others by expressing powerful emotions that we are experiencing. However, if you’re with someone else and you don’t want to ‘infect’ them with what you’re feeling, or you don’t want to ‘spoil their day’ – then sorry, but it’s actually too late. We are all very sensitive beings and that person will pick up on what you’re feeling even if you don’t share it with them. You are in relationship of some kind with that person, and what you are feeling will affect things between the two of you, whether you want it to or not. You can decide to take yourself off and be alone, but this too, of course, will have an impact on the other person. So trying to pretend we’re not feeling what we’re feeling is not a very helpful strategy. Another person can be left very confused if they sense strong emotion in us that is not being expressed.
So how then can we allow ourselves to have our feelings without acting out and hurting those around us? Firstly it is helpful is to get to know ourselves well enough to have a good sense of what might be emanating from us and what we might be picking up on from others – although this exploration will probably never be complete. It’s also helpful to have a language with which to share our thoughts and experience of what’s going on – this could be sharing it with ourself in a journal or self reflective process of some kind, or it could be sharing it with the other person involved in the situation.
In Shadow Work, and many psychological traditions, we believe that the world we see around us can be thought of as reflecting our inner world – the world we carry within us. One way of saying this is that we project our inner world on to the outer world. This is particularly troublesome when we are projecting out parts of our inner world that we do not like or find hard to accept. We project these on to others and then we don’t like what we see! Projection can be very powerful and persuasive – we can sometimes be totally convinced of a person’s motives or intentions, when actually this is not what is going on for them at all. We become upset and react strongly, not realising that what we see is just a reflection of something living inside ourselves.Help! How can I know what is ‘real’?
We can find out about ourselves by interacting with the outside world and checking out the veracity of our thoughts – our projections. The outside world is a place we can grab hold of and interact with to help us get clear on what is ‘real’ and this will give us some solid ground to move forward from. But we don’t need to check the veracity of our feelings, our feelings are always real. They exist physically in our bodies. So in this way they are one of the few things we can absolutely trust. They are our feelings, but they are rarely ‘nothing to do with anyone else’. They are often intimately connected with another, and working with that person to understand what is going on is often the most effective way to gain insight and find out the ‘truth’ and move forward. We can find out if what we are feeling fits with what is going on for them, or if it is something we are projecting on to them and the situation.
But I don’t understand!
We work a lot with paradox when we’re exploring the shadow – we explore situations where two opposing ideas both appear to be true. A willingness to accept paradoxes is important if we are to interact with the world as it really is, rather than forcing it in to a box for the sake of having a sense that we know what’s going on! For example, in the world of physics there are some well known paradoxes, such as wave particle duality, where light appears to behave as both a wave and a particle in different situations. No scientist can explain this or would claim to have a full solution. The same is true in the area of spirituality and personal development – we come across many paradoxes. This seems to be the nature of the Universe. We have to move forward accepting the existence of paradoxes otherwise we can get stuck.
In terms of our experience of the world we have two theories (at least) that both seem to have validity. One is that we create our own reality and that everything we experience in the world emanates from our own psyche projected out on to the world. The other is that there are other people out there with their own physical, emotional and spiritual lives whos behaviours can affect us and cause a reaction. It is helpful for us not to spend too much time wondering which of these is ‘The Truth’, but to move forward we have to work with this paradox and to hold the possibility of either of these interpretations being ‘true’. That way we can explore the world as we experience it.
If we find out our feeling is a response to something in the outside world we can take the appropriate action and respond to this feeling in a way that serves us. If we’re angry we can set a boundary, speak up, stand up for ourselves, if we’re afraid we can protect ourselves in whatever way is appropriate, if we’re sad we can nurture ourself and give ourself time to grieve and share our feelings, and so on. If we follow this feeling we don’t know where it will take us, but we will be following our healthy growth impulses and moving forward in our life and our relationships guided by the wisdom of our feelings.
If we find our reaction is not relevant or proportionate to what is going on around us we can explore where it comes from and start to understand more about our own inner world and our woundings. We can begin to heal past trauma. We can share our feelings with those close to us and they can come to understand us better and to know our reactions and where they stem from, so we stand to be better understood and cared for.
So wherever our feelings stem from there is potential for healthy growth and healing – if we can have the courage to trust and listen to these feelings and take action.How do we act on our feelings when we’re not sure where they stem from?
We can do this in many ways, although it is good to be as clean and clear in our communication as possible otherwise we may just add further confusion. It is important to let the other person know what we are feeling in a way that doesn’t assume it is related to them and doesn’t blame them for our feelings – yet that also allows space for the possibility our feelings may be related to what is going on for them. One set of guidelines for communicating clearly in this way is described by the Shadow Work Authentic Communication model.
Imagine coming home after a long day at work and our partner says ‘You’re home rather late.’ We might feel frightened and think that they are judging us, we might fear something is wrong – it may remind us of the past when we had a very critical parent and it seemed we could never do anything right. We may feel defensive. However the truth is that this could actually have been a simple statement of fact on our partner’s behalf. They may even be pleased that we were home late, since they got to, for example, finish off an important work project undisturbed. We simply don’t know. But we do know what we feel in our body – fear and a defensive anger. We can then look at the thoughts that have caused these feelings. The thoughts behind them might be ‘I’m being told off, maybe I’ve done something wrong. It’s not fair – I should be able to come and go as I please.’ We can either say nothing as we’re concerned this is just ‘our stuff’ and not necessarily to do with the other person, or we can share it with them, trusting that this is the best way forward. This can take some skill to develop. To read about ways of doing this please take a look at the following links.
If we have a powerful sense, for example of being belittled, unwanted, rejected, criticised or unloved, and on checking this out with those around us we find out that this doesn’t fit with their reality, then we may want to look at what’s going on in our inner world, and why we are creating this sense for ourselves when it isn’t actually ‘true’.
Some spiritual traditions would say ‘You create your own reality. There are no limits. You can have whatever you want.’ But in Shadow Work we would say ‘You create your own reality. You can have whatever you believe is possible.’ Which is quite a different statement. This clearly does have limits, based on what our inner world looks like.
If you think this sounds like a catch 22 then you’re right! Somehow we have to change our inner world – but how do we do that when we are always seeing our inner world projected everywhere – does this mean there is no chance for us to have a different experience?
One way of looking at it is that although our outer landscape reflects our inner world it is not an exact reflection, otherwise there would be no possibility for change. We can start the process of change by changing our inner landscape, or we can start by working on changing our outer landscape which, in turn, will reflect something new back to us which then becomes embedded into our inner landscape.
In Shadow Work we work with the deep wiring of our inner world. We explore the old patterns that are causing us difficulty, and we then go about changing these patterns and introducing a new experience. This is absorbed into your being on every level – through head, heart and hand so that it becomes real in your inner world. Once this is in place you will believe it is possible – because you have experienced it. You will then automatically attract this in to your life. There is no ‘trying’ to be different. Or ‘trying’ to think positively. You simply are different, and you think and feel differently about this issue.
More information about Marianne Hill Shadow Work