What Are Your Feelings Trying To Tell You?
Feelings are like warning lights on a car’s dashboard. They quietly try to get our attention and are easy to ignore. Unfortunately, ignoring certain lights on a dashboard can lead to very expensive problems. The same is true with our feelings. If we continually ignore our anger, pain, and fear, we put ourselves in danger.
Four years ago, I got a “new to me” car. It had 95,000 miles on it and was only five years old. I was afraid it was a risky buy, but I needed a car and this was the best I could afford. For the first week, it ran great, and I was getting used to the mysterious smell in the backseat. Just when I was beginning to feel safe with this major purchase, the check engine light came on.
I was crazy mad. Obviously, the dealer sold me a lemon. I imagined no less than 23 worst-case scenarios and spent hours researching lemon laws. Not that I had any money to hire a lawyer, replace a shady engine, or buy a new crappy car with different problems. I felt trapped, hopeless, and taken advantage of. My finances were in such a mess that this one buying mistake like could cause me to miss our rent payment. Then I started in on a deep shame spiral. How could I be so stupid? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I just fix my 10-year-old car? Etc. etc.
Before recovery, fear, shame, and anger were a part of my daily life, but I refused to acknowledge them. I shoved them down harder and harder under the surface. Strung out with stress, I didn’t see the pressure building. When any tiny thing went out of my control, my repressed emotions erupted and the damage was impossible to contain.
After I melted down and took my frustrations out on the poor salesman, I learned that the check engine light came on because I didn’t get the gas cap on tight enough after I got gas.
Oops – my bad.
Then the shame spiral started all over again. How could I be so stupid? What was I thinking?
Feelings Have A Function
When our human needs aren’t met, our feelings give us a warning sign. These human needs are easy to overlook, especially when we are caught in addiction or dysfunctional relationships. Each person deserves to have the following needs met:
Physical Well-Being: air, food, exercise, sleep, safety, shelter, water, touch and sexual expression.
Meaning: awareness, clarity, competence, contribution, creativity, growth, hope, learning, mourning, purpose, self-expression, and understanding.
Connection: acceptance, affection, appreciation, belonging, communication, community, companionship, consistency, inclusion, intimacy, love, nurturing, respect, self-respect, safety, stability, trust, warmth
Autonomy: choice, freedom, independence, space, and spontaneity
Honesty: authenticity and integrity
Peace: communication, ease, equality, harmony, inspiration, and order.
Play: fun, joy, and humor.
When our human needs aren’t met, we may feel:
Afraid: panicked, worried, dread
Annoyed: frustrated, impatient, irritated
Angry: enraged, irate, resentful
Hostile: disgusted, horrified, repulsed
Confused: hesitant, lost, torn
Disconnected: cold, indifferent, distracted
Restless: uncomfortable, uneasy, upset
Embarrassed: ashamed, guilty, flustered
Tired: exhausted, worn out, burnt out
Tense: anxious, edgy, overwhelmed
Vulnerable: helpless, insecure, leery
Envious: jealous, nostalgic, longing
Conversely, when our needs are met, we have serenity. We feel:
Peaceful: calm, relaxed, serene
Refreshed: rested, restored, revived
Grateful: appreciative, thankful, touched
Hopeful: encouraged, optimistic, expectant
Confident: empowered, safe, secure
Excited: enthusiastic, passionate, lively
Inspired: amazed, awe, wonder
Joyful: glad, happy, pleased
Ecstatic: blissful, elated, thrilled
Open-hearted: compassionate, friendly, sympathetic
Engaged: involved, alert, curious
How To Unfreeze Your Feelings
Some of us ignored our feelings for so long that we are frozen. If we couldn’t freeze them, we used alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, porn or bad relationships to numb our feelings. First, we have to quit numbing the pain with people or substances. We need to start feeling again. We can look for clues that we are dismissing, minimizing, or deflecting our feelings. Are we telling ourselves:
It’s not that big of a deal
He didn’t mean it
She was just trying to _________
Other people have it worse
We can ask ourselves that cheesy therapist question: How does that make me feel?
So, how are you feeling today? And, more importantly, what are your feelings telling you about your needs?
Source: These handouts are from an ACA meeting. For example, I spilled coffee on them. It made me sad because I needed them to be neat and orderly. ;)