Part 2. Be aware of what you are feeling.

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, 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.’

I said, ‘Surely we all know what we’re feeling?’

He said, ‘No, not if we’re out of the habit of describing what we feel. It’s easy to lose that habit. Some of us, for instance, grow up with mixed messages. Our parents might tell us what we are feeling, or should be feeling, instead of allowing us to experience what we are actually feeling. Tell children that they’re happy, or grateful, when they’re not, and they’ll get confused, won’t they?’

I shrugged.

‘And, some of us are told to not feel certain emotions: “Don’t feel bad, Don’t be angry, Don’t be jealous!” So we get good at avoiding those emotions. We still feel angry or jealous, but we have lost our awareness of it.’

He continued. ’Some emotions are uncomfortable to feel, so we can become adept at avoiding them. For example, many people think it’s bad to be angry, so they don’t let themselves be angry. The trouble is, their anger reveals itself in other ways – in sarcasm, in the way they snipe at their partners or friends, or in their chronic complaining . . .’

I was grappling with that when he added, ‘Or, they twist their anger into other emotions, and become bitter or anxious. They may even sink into despair.’

The lesson stayed with me. Years later, I discovered other examples of the distortion of unacknowledged emotions: someone who is jealous but not aware of it might become possessive; someone who is racist might not realise they are fearful; someone might think they are angry when the emotion they are feeling is envy, or humiliation, or loneliness, or shame. Some people aren’t even aware of their disappointment; they are being so stoic they don’t let themselves experience it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some people didn’t realise they were joyful!

If we are not aware of an emotion it can undermine us or lead us astray. It can prompt us into engaging in behaviours that we ourselves don’t fully understand. We might do something silly, and later ask ourselves in exasperation, ‘What was I thinking?!’ A better question would be, ‘What was I feeling?’

Only when we are aware of what we are feeling, and fully experience it, can we begin to deal with the emotion in a healthy, constructive manner.

It’s not just emotions that we need to be aware of, but all the ‘dark bits’ inside us. Instead of keeping them hidden from ourselves, and from others, we need to acknowledge them. When we do, we realise that they aren’t so bad after all. After a while we come to accept them, and when we come to accept them, we come to accept ourselves.

Then we can relax. We feel better about ourselves and go easier on ourselves. With nothing to hide, we lower our guard with people, and connect with them on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Further, the more we understand ourselves, and accept those dark bits, the more we understand other people, and accept their dark bits. With that empathy, we become less judgmental and more easy going. We adjust our expectations of others, and become more flexible and easier to be with.

In short, one way to become resilient is to get to know ourselves: to be aware of what we think and feel. In particular, we need to be attuned to the dark bits inside us, because it’s those dark bits that create anxiety.

The keys in Part 2 address this.

‘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.)

‘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, niggling and misleading you. If, however, you know precisely what you are feeling you can start dealing with it. And, when you get good at dealing with your emotions you become less anxious, because you know you can cope with them and not be shattered by them.

‘It’s rare that we don’t have issues in life, but it’s the belief that we’ve gained the tools to deal with them which gives us a belief in our resilience and capacity to thrive.’ (David, from Leongatha, Victoria.)

‘How do we know when we have “fully experienced” an emotion?’

When the emotion has lost its sting. When it’s easy to cope with it.
Fully experiencing emotions isn’t easy, and takes time. Take as long as you need, especially if you have experienced trauma. Delve into your emotions at your own pace. There is no correct amount of time.
     ‘We don’t always have to be aware of our emotions, do we?’
No, you want the ability to identify what we are feeling, particularly when you feel unsettled.
‘If I come to accept myself, isn’t there a risk I might come to accept my badness too?’

Accepting your ‘badness’ does not mean condoning it, but it’s the first step towards changing it. You will have a greater chance of adjusting your behaviour if you understand the emotions underpinning it in the first place.

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Key 1. Label it!

‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears —’

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 2

To improve my public speaking skills I became a soapbox speaker: a person who stands in a public place and talks.

The practice began millennia ago when the only way to impart ideas to the public was to stand on something and address people directly. Julius Caesar was a famous orator, or soapbox speaker, though he probably had a balcony stand on. Jesus Christ was another, though he and his contemporaries had to make do with a hillock, at best. The luxury of standing on an actual soapbox, or wooden crate, didn’t appear until the 1800s.

Public speaking continued this way for centuries. In the 1500s, in an English village called Tyburn, a popular variation developed. Once a month, the authorities would hang twenty or more prisoners, and those doomed souls were allowed, even expected, to shout a few dramatic words before their neck was stretched.

It is said that truth sits upon the lips of dying men. Those prisoners said things a person with a future dared not say: they railed against the government, the aristocracy, and against anyone else who had earned their displeasure. The speeches were so forthright and entertaining that they drew crowds, and platforms were erected to accommodate thousands of fee-paying spectators.

It was free speech in its ugliest and most pure form. ‘Dancing the Tyburn jig’ became a euphemism for being hanged.

In 1783 the Tyburn gallows were taken down, but speakers continued the tradition. The area’s name was later changed to Hyde Park (London), and people still go there to speak and listen. Speakers’ Corner, as it became known, is now a major tourist attraction.

There are Speakers’ Corners throughout the world, and I speak in Sydney’s, every Sunday. (There are four other speakers, and a few part-time speakers.) Not only have I improved my public speaking skills, I have also received valuable feedback from passers-by.

I get to say it ‘like it is’ just as those prisoners did so many years ago. There is value stating outright what we believe to be the truth. That is what this key is about: searching for the truth about how we feel, finding it, and stating it. That’s the first step in developing emotional resilience.

Recently I invited someone to dinner. I prepared the food and by 7pm everything was ready. By 7.30pm she hadn’t arrived, so I rang her. 

‘Didn’t you get my email?’ she asked me. ‘I sent it this morning.’

‘I haven’t looked at my emails’, I told her.

‘If you had, you would have known I wasn’t coming tonight.’

Through gritted teeth I said it was neglectful of her to assume I would look at my emails, and anyway, she should have rung to give me as much notice as possible, to prevent me buying unnecessary food. The rest of the conversation was brief.

When I hung up, I knew I was feeling bad. So I labelled that feeling. I said to myself, ‘I feel irritated. And betrayed. I feel unimportant.’

I had stated the emotions I was feeling. I had labelled them.

Often we don’t notice what we are feeling because we are too busy focusing on the problem. Once I knew what was happening inside me, I relaxed. It’s far easier to cope with an emotion when we are aware of it. Its intensity diminishes.

If we don’t know what we are feeling – if we don’t recognise our jealousy, humiliation, irritation, hurt or loneliness, for instance – we will be tossed about by those feelings. If we say ‘I feel like crap’ we won’t know what we are actually feeling. Those ‘blob’ words are non-specific and won’t help us. Terms like ‘I feel okay’ and ‘I feel fine’ are blob terms too; they don’t convey information or properly describe emotions.

If we don’t properly describe what we are feeling, we can lose touch with that feeling. We might be feeling lonely, but if we simply say ‘I feel lousy’ we might not become aware of that loneliness. So, we don’t get to address it. It hangs around.

People who simply say they feel ‘bad’ might be feeling afraid, but are unaware of it. Others expect to be angry, so they assume they are angry, and act in anger. They waste time and energy being angry, and don’t address the fear.

If we are not aware of an emotion, it will lead us, and influence our behaviour. We might assume we run our life, but if we are not aware of our emotions they will run the show. We will do things and wonder why on earth we did them.

If we don’t want to be a puppet led by unseen forces we need to know what we are feeling, and the best way to understand our feelings is to habitually search for what we are feeling and label it.

‘I feel irritated.’       ‘I feel apprehensive.’        ‘I feel isolated.’

We may, for instance, realise we feel annoyed. We would tell ourselves: ‘I feel annoyed.’

That’s labelling it.

Further, the expression, ‘I feel annoyed’ is more helpful than ‘I am annoyed’, as we are describing the emotions we are feeling, not defining ourselves in terms of that emotion.

Even if we don’t want to reveal to anyone what we are feeling (that can be wise sometimes!), we still need to acknowledge it to ourselves. We can think the words, ‘I feel annoyed’.

Develop the habit of labelling your emotions. For example:
 ‘I feel grumpy!’  ‘I feel pleased!’ ‘I feel afraid!’ ‘I feel powerless.’

When we are in the habit of labelling our emotions we become adept at recognising what’s happening inside ourselves. If we discover we are angry, we can figure out how we are going to express that anger. Instead of that anger leading us, we can direct it to make necessary changes. If we discover that we are afraid, we can work out what to do next. Either way, we can start making wise decisions on how to deal with what we are feeling. And, just knowing what we are feeling can reduce its intensity. When we replace our inner turmoil with the realisation that we are angry, the accompanying frustration and fear evaporate.

In short, figure out precisely what we are feeling, and label it.

It’s a good way to get to know ourselves.

‘Why would labelling an emotion reduce its intensity?’
There are various reasons:
* If you understand what emotion you are dealing with, you will feel less turmoil. (If Bill is angry, but not aware of it, he will experience turmoil and won’t know why. But when he discovers he is experiencing anger, much of the frustration and fear will evaporate because he now knows what he is dealing with.)
* Labelling an emotion can provide a similar outlet to swearing or other forms of expression.
* We may discover that our emotion is less extreme than we realised (for instance, that we are not furious, merely peeved).

‘You suggest that we use the expression “I feel annoyed” instead of “I am annoyed”. Why?’

As the psychotherapist, Gay McKinley, explains:

‘It is the subliminal message that such usage gives yourself. If I say, I feel stupid, that is valid.  It is what it is – just a feeling.  Harmless.  If I say, I am stupid, and my sense of self is robust, it may also be harmless. If my sense of self is fragile, and I say this, I am laying down and reinforcing the neural pathway in my brain that tells me I am stupid.  This is all done out of awareness.  So we need to be aware of the words that we use.  It’s okay to feel stupid; it’s pretty stupid to think that you actually are!’

‘Sometimes people ask us how we are, expecting the answer, “I’m fine, thanks.” But what if we’re not?’
In western culture this question is a standard greeting, and a form of acknowledgement. However, if the person knows you well, and is genuinely enquiring as to your wellbeing, consider being honest and accurate. For example, ‘I feel disconcerted, thanks.’

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Key 2. Be specific when you describe an emotion.

There are thousands of colours. Paint charts describe just a few. We have navy blue, royal blue, baby blue, cobalt blue and so on, but most of the time we just say ‘blue’. That’s fair enough, because most of the time the shade of the blue isn’t important.

In the same way, there are thousands of emotions, but only a few hundred words to describe them. The emotion you might feel at seeing the ocean for the first time would be different to the emotion you feel seeing a caterpillar for the first time. We might use the word ‘wonder’ to describe both, but the emotions being described would be different.

It’s understandable that we only have a few hundred words to describe thousands of emotions, but it’s a shame we use only a handful of those words. By limiting our language, we limit our understanding of what we are feeling.

For example, if we say things are ‘awesome’ or that they ‘give us the shits’, we are not being precise, and those words don’t help us unravel the turmoil within. On the other hand, if we can find the precise word – such as heartened, encouraged, pleased, astonished, curious – we become aware of life’s richness.

More importantly, we understand exactly what we are feeling, which makes it easier to deal with. We can uncover emotions we didn’t realise we had. As well as feeling ‘miffed’, for instance, we might also realise we feel frustrated. Furthermore, by being specific when labelling an unwanted emotion we can reduce its intensity – as when, for example, we realise that we aren’t devastated, merely disappointed.

The key to describing an emotion is to be specific. Instead of simply saying we feel angry, for instance, we can ask ourselves: ‘What type of anger am I feeling? Am I miffed? Vexed? Peeved? Irritated? Frustrated?

There are two other main ways to be specific.

Don’t exaggerate or catastrophise
Don’t use the word ‘ecstatic’ when you feel delighted.
Don’t say ‘I’m furious’ when you feel annoyed.
Don’t use the word ‘fantastic’ when you only feel pleased.

When we exaggerate, we don’t get to know ourselves; we get to know a caricature of ourselves. Catastrophising is an extension of exaggeration, and even more damaging. It is so important that it has its own key.

Don’t use clichés
Don’t say ‘I’m mad as a bull’ when you feel annoyed.
Don’t say ‘I’m scared out of my wits’ when you feel nervous.
Don’t say ‘I’m as sick as a dog’ when you have a cold.
Always search for the word that best and most precisely describes your feeling, and use it.

Rolf: ‘My cat died. I feel awful.’

Beatrice: ‘Be specific.’

Rolf: ‘Huh?’

Beatrice: ‘What are you feeling, exactly?’

Rolf: ‘Irritated, that you’re asking me this.’

Beatrice: ‘Good. What else? How do you feel about your cat dying?’

Rolf: ‘Awful. How do you think I feel?’

Beatrice: ‘Be specific.’

Rolf: ‘Wretched – sad – angry – miserable – flat – guilty . . .’

Beatrice: ‘Good stuff.’

Rolf says he feels awful, and he’s right. But he doesn’t know precisely what he is feeling, and that can be unsettling. Did you notice that he said ‘guilty’? He may not have been aware of that before. Now, he can examine his guilt and ponder about why he feels it. Knowing that he feels these emotions and that they have been ‘heard’ will ease his discomfort.

Rolf’s pain is still there, but he also knows he feels wretched, sad, angry, miserable, flat and guilty – and now he has a better chance of dealing with those feelings. He won’t have to suffer the ‘noise in his head’ telling him there’s something wrong, but not know what it is. 
 Mind you, being specific can have its problems:
Rolf: ‘I’m feeling discombobulated.’

Beatrice: ‘Huh?’

‘We are often encouraged to exaggerate in the name of positivity. The self-help guru, Anthony Robbins, for example, reckons that if we habitually use positive words like “spectacular” instead of “good” we will benefit. He also suggests we replace expressions such as “I feel angry” with the words, “I feel a little bit peeved”, “I feel a tad out of sorts” or “I feel a smidge cranky” to reduce the emotional intensity of an experience. What would you say to that?’

I believe it’s more important to accurately state our true feelings, and to get to know ourselves better. We need to make the unconscious conscious. Fibbing to ourselves will hinder that. If you are genuinely furious, tell yourself, ‘I’m feeling furious’, rather than, ‘I feel a little bit peeved.’ To really know ourselves, honesty is important.

‘What if I don’t feel anything in particular? What if I feel nothing?’

Be specific about that. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you feel?
listless      impassive       apathetic       cool        indifferent        serene
     deadened      calm
unmoved      bored      ambivalent
When you feel nothing in particular, still search for the right word and be specific.

‘Does it matter if I can’t think of the right word to describe my emotion?’

No, because even the attempt to find the right word is important, because that will bring us closer to what we are feeling. There are countless emotions that don’t have words adequate to describe them.

Step 1. Think of a time when you felt angry.

Step 2. Do any of these words accurately describe that anger?
irritated       displeased    irritable      peeved       exasperated    irked           irate      perturbed     annoyed        miffed        ruffled       perturbed       dismayed
If not, does another word come to mind?

Step 3. Did you also feel:

If so, do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
dislike           distaste         contempt       disdain       detest
 repulsed        hostility         despise          disgust       appalled
 repelled        disturbed       revolted        uncomfortable

Did you also feel:
afraid? anxious?  worried?  If so, do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
cautious       unnerved   nettled       concerned    alarmed
 pensive         nervous     uneasy      apprehensive
 intimidated  tense         perturbed   scared         bothered

stressed? If so, be specific. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
panicky           flustered         overwrought           anxious
    uneasy            alarmed           uncomfortable      worried

frustrated? If so, be specific. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
helpless           powerless         exasperated       discouraged            
 disheartened   disappointed     embittered        irked

resentful? If so, be specific. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
bitter         indignant      incensed      jealous used

betrayed? If so, be specific. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
lonely    isolated   forsaken   despair  abandoned  indignant

humiliated? If so, be specific. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
embarrassed    subdued   uncomfortable    crushed     sad
 degraded         shamed    disgraced            humble       hurt

powerless? If so, be specific. Do any of these words more accurately describe what you felt?
helpless           feeble          weak          ineffective hopeless useless

Step 4. Did you also feel any of these emotions?
relieved  exhilarated          powerful            invincible        burdened        lost                 defiant                disassociated      disappointment    guilt

Completing that exercise might have taken a while, but when we are in the habit of identifying our emotions and clearly labelling them, we can do it quickly.



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Key 3. Don’t catastrophise.

Another way to be specific: is to avoid catastrophising. Resist making statements such as, ‘This is terrible’ and ‘I’m devastated’ when it’s not terrible and you aren’t devastated. When we accurately state how we feel, people appreciate the honesty and may take us more seriously. And, when we find that we are not devastated, merely disappointed, we realise the situation isn’t so bad after all. Most importantly, we are more in touch with what we actually are feeling, because it’s not lost in the drama.

1. Don’t use other people’s disabling expressions:

‘It’s all too much.’          ‘I can’t cope.’        ‘Life’s a bitch.’ ‘I am devastated.’
‘I hate that.’      ‘What an absolute, total disaster.’           ‘I’m freaking out.’

Try instead: 
 ‘This is unpleasant.’    ‘I don’t like this.’     ‘This is inconvenient’  ‘I’m feeling anxious’.
These expressions can accurately describe how you feel and reduce the intensity of the emotion. Plus, you see the problem in a healthier perspective.

‘. . . if you develop a habit of saying you “hate” things – you “hate” your hair; you “hate” your job; you “hate” having to do something – do you think this raises the intensity of your negative emotional states more than if you were to use a phrase like “I prefer something else”?’  Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within

2. Ask yourself: ‘Is it serious? On a scale from 1 to 100, what score would I give the situation?

3. Avoid these two particular words of exaggeration: always and never

‘It always rains on my birthday.’

 ‘You always do that.’

‘It always happens at the last moment.’

‘You never do what I suggest.’

‘We never go out.’

‘I never have any luck.’

Avoid other exaggerations too:  such as everyone and no one.
‘Everyone is corrupt.’

 ‘No one cares.’

Avoid standard complaints such as:
‘That’s typical.’  

 ‘That’s Murphy’s law!’      
 ‘I’m such an idiot.’

Using these trite and whiny expressions prompt us to feel powerless, frustrated and discouraged. 
 And, they make us LOOK powerless, frustrated and discouraged.

‘Making broad, generalised and global conclusions on the basis of only a little evidence can leave us thinking that things are really uncontrollable, inevitable and out of our hands. A sense of helplessness often accompanies such over generalisations.’
                                              From an article found in


Expand your vocabulary
Practise expanding your vocabulary to include new words that convey more subtle distinctions.
a) List the words you use regularly to describe your feelings, such as awesome, great, fantastic, cool.

b) Use a thesaurus to list new words to use from now on. Make sure they accurately describe what you are feeling. If they don’t, keep searching rather than falling back on your old words.

 ‘If you describe a magnificent experience as being ‘pretty good’, the rich texture of it will be smoothed and made flat by your limited use of vocabulary.’   

Anthony Robbins, ‘Awaken the Giant Within
However, if the experience is only “pretty good”, stick with that description or use words like, adequate or acceptable.

Complete the sentences
Using the thesaurus, find the most accurate word to complete these sentences. Remember, be specific!
When the team I support wins, I feel …………………….
When the team I support loses, I feel ……………………….
When the team I support draws, I feel …………………………..
When someone ignores me, I feel  …………………….
When someone cries, I feel ………………..
When someone praises me, I feel …………………
When someone talks about themselves all the time, I feel …………………
When someone gets mad at me, I feel …………………
When someone acts superior to me, I feel …………………
When someone is attracted to me, I feel …………………
When someone breaks a confidence, I feel …………………
When someone is very late for an appointment, I feel …………………
When I am in a group of strangers, I feel …………………
When someone gives me the silent treatment, I feel …………………

(sentences compiled by Belinda Ballan, Sydney University)



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Key 4. Are you feeling other emotions?


When I was a child my father taught me that leprechauns hide their pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. I don’t know how many leprechauns there are in Australia, but I’m not taking any chances: when I see a rainbow I estimate its coordinates and go looking.

I don’t intend to steal the gold, just borrow it for a little while.

Here’s a thought: a rainbow has two ends, so instead of looking for one pot of gold, I look for two!

It’s the same for emotions. Remember Key 1, where we learnt to label our emotion’? Now, when we feel one emotion, there is usually another one lurking about. It’s crucial to label it, too. For example, we can ask ourselves: ‘As well as feeling angry, am I also fearful or ashamed?’

We often feel a mixture of emotions, some contradictory. Be aware of them all. Develop the habit of looking for more than one emotion, and labelling them all. Each one is a ‘pot of gold’, waiting to be discovered.

Importantly, if you feel only the slightest trace of an emotion – if it’s just one percent of what you are feeling – acknowledge it, out loud or to yourself. For example,
‘Along with my jealousy I’m feeling just a smidgeon of contempt.’
‘I can feel a trace of envy as well. Just a trace.’
‘Yes, I certainly feel pleased for her. But is that a touch of resentment I feel as well?’

It’s important for us to be aware of those one-percenters, because they can reveal the most. They’re the ones that are hiding, so they’re the ones that can lead to greater self-knowledge.


Step 1. What emotion are you feeling right now? Frustration? Impatience? Curiosity?
Remember, find the right word. Be specific. Don’t use the words above unless they truly fit. Find your own words to describe what you feel right now.

Step 2. Search for other emotions. Is there apprehension? Hope? Distrust? Pessimism? Optimism?

Step 3. Congratulate yourself on discovering the enormous range of emotions you can experience by just doing something as simple as reading a book. How complex are the emotions people can feel!

To practise searching for your emotions, do this exercise regularly: mute the television advertisements and search for the various emotions you are feeling. It only takes a minute or two.

After a while, you’ll be adept at identifying what you’re feeling, and feel comfortable feeling those feelings. That’s a big step towards emotional resilience!

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Key 5. Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.



 Think back to the lesson my Uncle Geoff taught me, described in the introduction to Part 2. He asked me how I felt about circus lions being caged and my football team losing, and I gave him my thoughts on the matters. He told me I needed to distinguish between my thoughts and my feelings when I spoke, and avoid confusing what I was thinking with what I was feeling. That way, my life would run more smoothly.

When you say: ‘I feel —‘ describe a feeling. When you are about to describe a feeling, preface it with ‘I feel’. 
 When you say, ‘I think —‘ make sure you give your thoughts. When you are about to express an opinion, preface it with ‘I think’.

Practising this skill helps us to distinguish our feelings from our thoughts, and that grounds us. Consider these statements:
‘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. He needs to search himself. 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 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!

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 do this?                                        I feel in my body . . .
Will it be alright?                                   a knot in my stomach, tense, nauseous,
How do I cook a rabbit?                        goosebumps,

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

A friend tells you she is pregnant, and is happy about it.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
 I think . . .                                                   I feel . . .

In short, get into the habit of differentiating between your thoughts and feelings.

Posted in Tip 5. Distinguish between thoughts and feelings. | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Key 6. Don’t talk like a zombie.

I once asked an acquaintance – let’s call him ‘Oscar’ – how he felt about losing custody of his dog. He shrugged and replied, ‘These things happen.’

Oscar had given me his opinion, not an expression of how he felt, so I asked again, ‘How do you feel about losing custody of your dog?’

He shrugged again.

I persisted. ‘Do you miss your dog? Do you feel like you are a victim of injustice?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. Then he added, ‘It doesn’t worry me. Mary can look after Bosley better than I can.’

Yet I knew it did worry him because he had tried hard to keep the dog.

Talking with Oscar was like talking to a zombie. He was adept at avoiding telling people what he felt. He denied emotional involvement by using expressions such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘It doesn’t worry me’, or he gave an opinion. Being unable, or unwilling, to articulate his emotions made it difficult for him to deal with them, and it made him feel deadened.

‘The trouble is, we cannot selectively numb one emotion. We cannot say, here’s the bad stuff, here is shame, disappointment, fear – I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb them without numbing other emotions, like joy, gratitude, happiness.’
(Brené Brown, TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.)

By numbing his dark emotions, Oscar had numbed the fun ones too. His inability to express his feelings to others also prevented him from fully connecting with them and making friends.

When people ask us what we are feeling and we reply,‘Nothing’, our answer indicates not that we have no emotions, but rather, that we aren’t yet good at identifying them. Perhaps we think emotions are frivolous things and more trouble than they’re worth. We might also be concerned that if we feel emotions, we may again experience the pain we used to feel.

The trouble is, when we rely solely on logic we deny ourselves emotional release, whether it be in joy or in pain. A big part of us doesn’t get to see the sun, and it doesn’t get to blossom. Identifying the emotions we are feeling may sound scary, and may in some cultures be considered unmanly, but it is safe and it is manly. It just takes getting used to, that’s all.

So, if you are asked how you feel about something, don’t say ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it doesn’t worry me,’ or ‘no problem’ because you are only telling the person what you don’t feel. Instead, answer the question and say what you do feel.Tell the person what you do feel. More importantly, do it so that you are aware of what is happening inside yourself.

The more adept we become at recognising our own emotions, the better we become at dealing with them. Our confidence in ourselves grows, and we also feel safer – not because we are protecting ourselves, but because we have lost the need to protect ourselves.

So, the next time you are tempted to say ‘I don’t feel anything in particular’, or ‘I don’t care’, or ‘I feel nothing’, search within yourself for an emotion. Any emotion. Even if it’s just an atom of an emotion, say it!

Jim: ‘How do you feel about your car being stolen?’

Mel: ‘I’ll get used to it.’ (Incorrect – that’s an opinion, a thought.)

Mel: ‘No problem.’ (Incorrect – she is not expressing what she is feeling.)

Mel: ‘I don’t care.’ (Incorrect – she is telling us what she is not feeling. Mel, tell us what you are feeling.)

Mel: ‘Nothing in particular.’ (Incorrect – she would be feeling something. Mel, figure it out, and label it.)

‘What if I don’t want to tell someone how I feel?’
Say so:
‘I’d rather not discuss how I feel.’
‘I’d rather not talk about it.’
‘I’d rather not say, but thanks for asking.’
Be direct. Don’t use weak or vague phrases such as,‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m fine.’
 To make sure you’re not being lazy, figure out the answers for yourself. Label them. Figure out what other emotions you are feeling and label them too. And be specific.

Q. ‘What if I don’t feel anything?’
If you search for an emotion but fail to find one, use the term ‘I feel indifferent’. That’s better than telling the person what you are not feeling, and it’s more accurate.

In short, make a promise to yourself: when asked what you do feel, don’t tell the person what you are not feeling. Never again say:
‘I don’t care’      ‘No problem.’       ‘It doesn’t worry me.’        ‘Nothing.’
Instead, tell the person what you are feeling. Search for an emotion within, and say it.
Or, if you don’t want to tell the person what you are feeling, say so: ‘I’d rather not talk about it.’

In the same way, if you are enjoying something, admit it. Don’t be cool or offhand. Don’t say:
‘It’s okay.’         ‘It’s alright, I guess.’
Try instead: ‘I feel elated’ (or any word that reflects what you are actually feeling).


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