Very often, to be ‘successful’ in our society, we must pump up our thinking abilities. Many of us lead very rich ‘thinking’ lives and we certainly benefit in practical ways because of it. We must be able to problem solve and analyze and wordsmith. So if you are a skilled thinker, it can be easy to start using thought as your primary tool for interacting with the world. But we have an opportunity to live in two dimensions – to think and feel. And leading a rich, yet balanced, thinking and feeling life is actually essential to good health – both mental and physical.
In all the hours I’ve spent with clients, the most common phenomena I see is a kind of ‘depression’. The pop- psychology meaning of that word is something close to feeling ‘numb’. I could go on with the literal definition and talk about the diagnostic criteria for major depression. But in practice, I’ve found that those components often do little to imply the urgency that leading a ‘numb’ life should.
Emotions point to a truth. In general, changes in emotion are the natural and healthy catalysts for action. Ideally we use the information they provide to motivate us to meet important needs. But as humans have evolved in our thinking capacity, we have developed a possibly dangerous capacity to ignore our ‘feelings as they happen’. As we become a more intelligent and principled society, implications of what we should feel and should prioritize are being adopted as truth (by the thinking mind at least). From a high-minded and theoretical perspective this can be a good thing. But as always, the devil is in the details. The importance of balancing authentic emotional experience with thinking is absolutely vital for true happiness and health.
This is such an important context for every part of our daily lives. When our thinking and feeling capacities are out of balance, it is one of the most difficult things to address with clients. Things get tricky when we’ve trained ourselves (with the help of some families and society) to distract attention from unpleasant realities, internal or external.
Why wouldn’t we want to be able to disconnect from unpleasant experiences? Who wants pain? This is very natural. But too much disconnection over time can begin to dampen your emotional senses across the board. This is often how non-organically based depression begins. Maybe you’ve learned to ‘stop letting things get to you.’ Typically this figure of speech implies not letting the ‘bad’ things get to you. But the generality of the literal statement is ironically accurate. As I’ve said in other posts – there is a symmetry to our perceptual abilities. If we cap pain – then we cap joy.
So what do we do? Ideally if you would describe the majority of your feeling states as ‘numb’ – I would encourage you to try coaching or therapy. But as the title of this blog implies, many people have real hesitancy when it comes to sitting in a room with someone talking about feelings. The irony is that the people most averse to discussing feelings are probably best poised to benefit from doing just that.
The good news is that plenty of non-therapy options exist to begin working toward a richer ‘feeling’ life. Just checking in with yourself can be a start. I often suggest that clients take a moment to ask themselves how they feel before each meal time. And any non-thinking method you can find to express yourself is often a good way to access ‘off the radar’ feelings through the ‘back door.’ Things like music, drawing, working with your hands or physical sports are all ways to give the thinking a break and rebuild connection with the rest of who you are.
Mindfulness activities such as yoga or meditation are also becoming much more mainstream this days. Again, overthinkers will have a hard time seeing the value of ‘not thinking’. But the answer any of these suggestions provides is not to stop thinking – it’s to start feeling – more regularly and more ‘real time’. When we have a regular connection to the emotion of each given moment – then we don’t ‘save up’ toxic emotions for other unrelated situations and we feel joy that we may have otherwise missed.