Being attuned to what we feel could be one of the most important aspects of a thriving human being.
When we cut off from our internal process, we essentially move away from being ourselves. Granted, certain things have to be in place… for example, a physical sense of safety (e.g. no potential of a falling object hitting). If our physiological existence is threatened, forget about everything else. However, with physical safety in place, we have access to an internal barometer that can guide us quite well. By being attuned to what we feel, we have instant feedback on how our lives are unfolding, what’s working, and what needs changing. It sounds pretty easy, and yet, the pressing question lurks just under the surface ‘why don’t we stay attuned to our feelings more often?’ The simple answer, perhaps, is that there’s life to take care of – career, family, kids, money, etc. It’s a legitimate answer because living in modern society pulls us in the direction of outward productivity. Yet, the fine line between meeting significant obligations and ignoring what we feel can get blurry, and once entrenched, hard to move. In other words, staying busy with life things gives us the illusion that we’re just doing all that we can, but if there are lingering emotions undealt with, they find a way to the surface. Interestingly, these emotions tend to come on even stronger than before, and in a way it makes sense why they would – the longer something is suppressed, the more momentum it builds on its way up, and looks like an explosion by the time it meets the surface. This may explain why sometimes just a simple thing can set us off.
Instead, tending to our internal barometer (our feelings), we stay more closely connected to all parts of ourselves, and build more trust that we can healthily interact with the world (both physically and emotionally) around us. For example, if our partner upsets us, we figure out a time to address it in a way that’s respectful towards both them and ourselves. Not addressing things eventually leads to more resentment, and getting instantly upset and overactive could trigger a similar response in our loved one – then we get further and further away from dealing with problems in a healthy way. Ideally? We notice that our interaction with our partner left us feeling unsettled, and in that moment we scan our feelings of what else might be going on in our life that’s making us upset? “I completely forgot that I didn’t sleep well last night and am feeling a little cranky today,” or “work has been stressful lately, and I feel a little edgy.” In either case, it’s not the interaction alone with our partner that set us off, but it’s the final push that sent us over the edge and made us act in ways that we later regret.
One other important idea behind tending to our feelings as a barometer. There may be a tendency to overthink and become so entrenched in our emotions that we lose that healthy sense of balance between scanning our internal process and interacting with the world around us. At that point of too much leaning inwardly, we tend to become a bit too absorbed in our own hurt that we simply can’t see things in a more clear, neutral way. We’ve most likely all been around people who seem so engaged in their own internal state of affairs that they fail to notice that there is more than just their feelings and interests at stake. And, if we’re honest, we have all probably been that person at times – the only difference being is that it’s hard to notice when we’re in it. A good friend, family member, therapist, or anyone with whom we feel a sense of rapport and trust can gently point it out to us, but we have to be willing to hear what they’re saying. It sounds good and somewhat easy in reading and writing, but in reality, it’s really tough to put the brakes on our runaway trolley of emotions, much less be willing to hear about it. Yet, arguably, it’s extremely important for our own well-being, and the well-being of those around us, to be open to ways in which we can change and grow.
Check in with Your Feelings
In summary, being attuned to our feelings is extremely important, especially in the modern world which demands so much emphasis on the external. However, there needs to be a balance of not turning in so much that it becomes a way of being itself. The right mix of ‘checking in with yourself’ but also being engaged in the world around us is probably the optimal place to be.