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I know I shouldn’t mind BUT…

Saturday 13 December 2008

I have a problem with this myth of feelings without reason. Always have had a problem with it, which alienbaby reminded me of the other day. Her wise and as-ever interesting essay mentions familiar attitudes the world thrusts at us:

  • should be grateful
  • supposed to imagine drawing support
  • should count myself lucky
  • modify my wants

(Often, to be fair, the world is trying to help – poor misguided world.)

Here’s a thing i’ve learnt. If we feel an emotion (loss, anger, shame, delight, longing, gratitude…) then that is something we ‘should’ be feeling. Not ‘should’ be acting on – screaming, hitting and swearing at people are within our power of choice, but feeling the fury is NOT.

A wise woman once told me feelings about ‘nothing’ come from things that happened in our pre-verbal life. Because we had no words, our need (for reassurance, consolation, insight, whatever else) was unexplained – unacknowledged, un-emasculated – so its power to make us feel remains.

From which, my observation that there’s no such thing as feeling something for no reason. EVERY feeling has a cause.

It helped me a lot when it occurred to me i’m allowed reasonless feelings. I can say, ‘Today I’m grumpy,’ without saying, ‘You’ve done me wrong.’ I can acknowledge feeling dissatisfied without claiming anyone has let me down, or feeling a sense of loss without identifying the thing taken from me. Very freeing. Scary too, as all freedoms are – once you have recognised a causeless emotion, you’re left to feel it, no more explaining or deriving or denying. Yes, feel it. That’s hard. But even that can be a lot easier when you’re no longer battling the ‘knowledge’ that there’s no reason to feel it.

Knowing, after all, in this context means verbal – words – your head. It’s your heart handing you these feelings, your heart that has to experience them… and your heart, not your head, that knows how to do them.

It helps, too, to work on the premise that these things do come out of nowhere. You needn’t convert to the idea, just try assuming it for a while to see what follows. It goes like this: the frame of mind for a particular attachment or wish or fear can strike at random. I once, in the midst of a very fluid love life, had the sense that the next situation would last – whether it was a relationship, or being single. Events showed that instinct had been right – the next person I dated lasted. The point is: I knew it before I’d met him.

Perhaps toddler alienbaby’s obsession with Chris was formed and ready to hit her, the pin already removed, and then he happened along at the requisite moment to become its object. Like the potion that made Titania fall for Bottom. Perhaps that’s how we work.

Could explain why our relationships and emotions are so often chaotic.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. mymilkspilt permalink
    Monday 15 December 2008 4.46 am

    Interesting insights! There seems to be so much guilt attached to our emotions sometimes, because we try to justify them. I come across it all the time now that I’m a mother… the old “I know I should feel grateful to have a healthy baby BUT I’m just so frustrated…”
    So important to just let ourselves feel sometimes. I think it’s equally vital to recognise that others’ feelings have no ‘oughts’ either — nor are they contingent on ourselves. It’s tempting to think a loved one’s bad mood must be my fault but so much more helpful to acknowledge that sometimes these things just are. Easier to react with compassion, that way.

    So true. I also strive not to put it onto my own children. (‘You’ve got to like the taste – it took forty minutes to make!’) Philosophy versus instinct – so much parenting is about breaking the parenting cycle. A whole series of posts in that thought…
    – mand

  2. AlienBaby permalink
    Saturday 13 December 2008 4.45 pm

    Wise-as-ever? I like it!!!

    I’m really glad you articulated this. It’s been my experience that nearly every day *someone* attempts, for whatever reason, to shame me out of feeling whatever I’m feeling, because I “shouldn’t” feel that way. This is especially true of fervent adherents of a particular belief system, whether they’re fundamentalists, yogis, or atheists. One of my best friends and I were just discussing this…

    Plenty of mileage in this point, i agree. ‘Ought’ surely can apply to actions only, not feelings – but how many people live by that?
    – mand

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