Distinguish between your thoughts and feelings.

Years ago, when I was visiting my uncle Geoff at his farm in Korumburra, he casually asked, ’Mark, how do you feel about circus lions being kept in cages?’    
     I answered, ‘It’s cruel, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be allowed’, to which he replied, ‘Wrong answer’.    
     While I was puzzling at this he asked me, ‘How do you feel about your footy team losing yesterday?’
     I told him we were unlucky; our key forward had a crook knee and we only lost by three points.
     Again he said, ‘Wrong answer.’
     Can you figure out why they were wrong answers?

He pointed out that he had asked me how I felt about circus lions being kept in cages, and I had given him my thoughts on the matter. Big difference. A correct answer might have included words like ‘concerned’, ‘appalled’, ‘irritated’, which describe feelings.
     How did I feel about my footy team losing? Disappointed. Deflated. Flat.
     Uncle Geoff explained that if we want our lives to run smoothly, we need to be in the habit of distinguishing between our thoughts and our feelings.
     ‘Why?’ I asked.
    
He said that some people try to be always rational, and lose touch with what they are feeling; others rely on their feelings and fail to think things through. Both tend to find themselves believing one thing but doing another, and living lives of mild confusion.

‘Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.’
Khalil Gibran in ‘The Prophet’

‘The trick’, Uncle Geoff continued, ‘is to think things through, yet be fully in touch with our emotions – and the best way to do that is to distinguish between our thoughts and emotions when we speak.’
  
‘We are taught many things in a lifetime, but rarely do we get a chance to learn about emotion and ways of relating to others. We make a great effort to develop the mind, but apparently we are supposed to deal with our emotions instinctively.’
Thomas Moore, from his book, Dark Nights of the Soul.

In short, a good way to be aware of our thoughts and our feelings is to distinguish between them when we speak. When you say: ‘I feel —’ describe a feeling. When you say, ‘I think —’ give your thoughts. And be specific.
  Over time you will become skilled at knowing precisely what you are thinking and what you are feeling, and adept at dealing with what is going on inside you. That will be a big plus towards becoming resilient, and happy.

Q. ‘Why is it bad to confuse our emotions?’
If you don’t know what you are feeling, how can you address it? You can’t. So, it keeps popping up, and niggling at you and misleading you. But if you know precisely what you are feeling you have a much better chance of dealing with it. Result? Less anxiety.

‘I feel we should look for another way.’ (Wrong)
‘I think we should look for another way. ’(Correct.)
‘I feel frustrated. I think we should look for another way.’ (Correct.)

‘I feel I’m unappreciated.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think I’m unappreciated, and feel hurt and disappointed as a result.’ (Correct.)

‘I feel you are not listening to me.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think you are not listening to me, and I feel irritated with that.’    (Correct.)

Jan: ‘I want to break up. How do you feel about that, Bill?’
Bill: ‘I don’t think we should break up.’ (Incorrect. That’s a thought. Before Bill expresses his thoughts on the matter he should address Jan’s question by telling her what he feels. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I don’t feel anything; I’m in shock.’ (Bill is not in shock. He’s exaggerating, and indicating that he isn’t aware of what is going on inside him. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel awful.’ (That’s a better answer, but Bill needs to be more specific. He needs to find words that describe precisely how he feels.)
Bill: ‘This is terrible.’ (Incorrect. He’s expressing his opinion again, rather than stating how he feels. Have another go, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel terrible.’  (That’s a bit better. He is describing a feeling, although he still not being specific.)
Bill: ‘I feel hurt. Frightened. Anxious.’  (Now Bill is getting the hang of it!)
Bill: ‘I feel nauseous.’ (Good. Bill is also recognising what his body is feeling.)
Bill: ‘I feel surprise, hurt, betrayal, anger, humiliation . . .’ (Good. It might sound like a shopping list, but by labelling his emotions Bill is becoming aware of them. He can now start to deal with them, and think things through.)
     When Bill got it right he: – expressed his feelings rather than his thoughts
          – used the word ‘feel’ to describe his feelings
          – allowed himself to feel vulnerable by expressing what he felt
          – labelled his emotion,
          – looked for other emotions he was feeling and labelled them too.
All in all, Bill did well. But Jan still dumped him!

Exercise
Practise distinguishing between thoughts and feelings by naming at least six thoughts you might think, and six emotions you might feel, in each of the following scenarios.

Example:
You find a rabbit with its leg caught in a rabbit trap.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
        I think —                                                I feel —
it’s in pain.                                             concern, anger, flustered, outrage, distressed
this shouldn’t happen.
who would set this trap?                                I feel in my body —
will the rabbit be alright?                      a knot in my stomach, tense, nauseous, goosebumps
how do I cook a rabbit?

Your turn now.
(1) You discover that your best friend has been stealing money.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
I think —                                                               I feel —

(2) A close relative gleefully tells you she is pregnant.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
 I think —                                            I feel —

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