Much of my therapeutic work is spent exploring feelings with my clients. Most people are comfortable articulating their feelings, such as giving a name to a feeling such as ‘happiness’ or ‘anger’. However, being able to name a feeling or emotion is much easier than understanding its source of origin. In a psychological sense, feelings can best be described as the individual’s own experience or perception of the world around them. Most importantly, one’s own feelings are the result of how we each interpret or process the information of the world around us.
A good example would be two people listening to the same piece of music. One person loves it. They describe how the music makes them feel happy and full of hope for the future. The other person hates it. They describe how the music leaves them feeling irritated and unhappy. Two people therefore experience the same piece of stimulus (the music) but respond to it (their feelings) in wildly different ways. Feelings come from within, not from external factors. If feelings were directly linked to external factors, the piece of music would make everyone feel the same way.
When we understand that our feelings come from within as a response to outside influences, we can find ourselves liberated from the belief that other people are in control of our feelings. We are used to saying that someone or something made us feel a certain way. The truth of the matter is that other people might behave in a certain way, but the way in which we feel about their behaviour comes from within ourselves. This knowledge removes the accountability for how we feel from other people, and places it, quite correctly, as one of our own responsibilities.
This doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye to the impact our behaviour might have on the world around us. Just because we aren’t directly responsible for the feelings of others, we shouldn’t assume that our behaviour will have no impact at all. Being thoughtful and considerate of the feelings of other people is undoubtedly a skill we would all wish for our children to develop. As an adult who wishes to function effectively as part of a number of different social groups (family, friends, work, etc), we should never ignore the impact that we might have on other people.
The knowledge that feelings originate from within does not guarantee that we aren’t going to feel negative emotions such as anger or sorrow or jealousy from time to time. Negative feelings are as commonplace as positive ones and they are all part of human experience. Understanding the source of our feelings is often an important step towards learning to manage them.
Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
01851 871094 / 07815662208