Let’s say you’re driving a car and the check engine light comes on. Do you know what happens if you ignore it and keep driving? Literally nothing. The car is fine, you’re fine, everything is fine, ok?
It’s usually something simple — an air filter, oxygen sensor, or spark plug — something you could replace in about ten minutes. But what happens if you continue to ignore it?
Well, depending on the issue, it may be that nothing happens for quite some time. Maybe you get fewer miles to the gallon, or your car starts to make funny noises. Whatever. It still gets you from A to B, doesn’t it? But maybe it starts to stall out, smoke, or overheat.
Outward symptoms or not, ignoring this warning signal over time will result in more damage to your car, less safety for you and your passengers, more costly repairs, and a shorter lifespan for the car.
This is exactly how the human body works and, not coincidentally, the same way relationships function as well, only your feelings are the check engine light.
Ignoring Your Feelings
So many people were never taught about feelings — how to identify, feel, process, or express them. They were born to parents who were never taught those things either, so they come by it naturally.
Then there are vast swaths of the human populace who were actively trained to ignore their feelings.
When they were sad, people told them to stop crying, cheer up, or don’t feel that way. They were punished for being angry. Joyful play was deemed inappropriate. They learned that having feelings often upset the people around them. And what child wants to be a burden on their family? This is how people are stripped of an instinctual connection to their feelings.
In other words, they are gaslighted by their own family whose one fucking job was to teach them how to be human.
The result is either a child who strives to be more than human through over-functioning and stoic perfectionism or less than human through underachievement and compulsive addictions. Strangely enough, these are both hallmarks of the same underlying condition of toxic shame that follows directly from childhood emotional neglect or abuse.
Feelings and Needs
There are pros and cons to suppressing your feelings. Every maladaptive coping mechanism has its payoff. But the downside of dissociating from your feeling life is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual abandonment, otherwise known as soul-murder. Certainly not a pleasant state of affairs.
Feelings alert us to our physical needs when we are hungry, cold, tired, or in pain. They tell us of our mental needs when we are bored or overstimulated. We know our emotional needs are unmet when we are angry, sad, or afraid. We may be neglecting our spiritual needs if we feel powerless, hopeless, or purposeless.
Every feeling gives us instantaneous biofeedback about the quality of our lives and relationships. Positive feelings tell us that our needs are being met and negative ones tell us otherwise. If you are just waking up to the vital importance of understanding your feelings and needs, you will find helpful suggestions and resources at the end of this article.
You Can’t Heal What You Can’t Feel
If you are dogged by a problem, habit, or pattern in your life that just won’t go away, you may be choosing that instead of feeling something uncomfortable. The bigger problem here is that most people have no idea what that uncomfortable thing is.
In his book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker wrote, “We know very well that to repress means more than to put away and to forget that which was put away and the place where we put it. It means also to maintain a constant psychological effort to keep the lid on and inwardly never relax our watchfulness.” He goes on to say, “It is fateful and ironic how the lie we need in order to live dooms us to a life that is never really ours.”
Oof. A brutal description of the hollow existence that consumes the wounded and self-abandoned among us.
If you want to heal, you absolutely have to connect with your feelings, which could prove to be the hardest things you ever do in life. You see, this isn’t the type of problem you can punch in the face. You can’t throw money at it to make it go away. The only way around it is through it.
Connecting With Your Feelings
The following are some suggestions for connecting with the parts of yourself you may have had to jettison in order to survive a dysfunctional childhood:
- Talk to a therapist, coach, or safe friend about your challenges
- Join a support group or a twelve-step fellowship
- Print or bookmark the CNVC feelings and needs inventories
- Print or bookmark the feelings wheel
- Use a mood tracker app like Moody, FeelMo, or Reflectly
- Journal about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences
- Connect with physical sensations through meditation and mindfulness
- Read or listen to helpful books or podcasts
Scott Peck described emotional illness as avoiding reality at any cost, and mental health as accepting reality at any cost. If you want to be healthy, you’ve got to get in touch with reality — something you cannot do if you are disconnected from your feelings.
They are the check engine light of your soul.
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