Why Feeling May Be Smarter Than Thinking

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This may seem contradictory, but sometimes, feeling instead of thinking can provide more clarity than you think. If you tend towards rational, evidence-based decision-making, but wonder if your overanalyzing has led to more distress than it has relief, hear me out.

Whenever I am stumped by how I am feeling, I revert to these main emotions that research has suggested to be the foundational four:

  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Glad
  • Scared

These emotions of course don’t cover the whole range of feelings, but it’s a pretty good base to start if you don’t know where to begin to feel. It’s what therapists use with kids.

In this NYTimes article, it posits that there are basically two categories of emotions.

There are core emotions, like anger, joy and sadness, which when experienced viscerally lead to a sense of relief and clarity (even if they are initially unpleasant). And there are inhibitory emotions, like shame, guilt and anxiety, which serve to block you from experiencing core emotions.

It’s a really interesting idea to me, that emotions like shame, guilt and anxiety are actually inhibiting genuine emotions.

Children with too much shame (guilt, or anxiety) grow up to be adults who can no longer sense their inner experiences. They learn not to feel, and they lose the ability to use their emotions as a compass for living.

I don’t want to be lacking in a compass for living. I’m in the process of getting more in tune with my emotions these days, and shifting away from my tendency to intellectualize when faced with a trying situation. I’m learning that it is okay to feel sad, mad, glad, or scared. That it’s okay to miss my ex from time to time, or to be uninhibitedly joyous but also apprehensive about a relationship with an ambiguous future; that it is okay to be mad at people who have done wrong by me and not make excuses for their bad behavior.

I shouldn’t judge my judging; feel weak for feeling sad, or feel like a fool for feeling excited, or get mad at myself for getting upset. None of these meta-judgements are helpful. It’s true that experiencing core emotions without the burden of guilt or shame or anxiety feels entirely liberating. This is a state that I’ve only more recently achieved – feelings are so hard!

I used to think, if I don’t reflect on my feelings, how can I possibly improve? I’m going to end up indefinitely moping over someone who isn’t worthy of my tears, or be an ignorantly blissful fool, or some other useless trait.

Here’s what I now know: that it’s one thing to self-reflect, it’s another to self-castigate. And like the author in the NYTimes article says, feeling core emotions is what leads to “relief and clarity” – not constant self-examination and self-doubt. Sometimes insight comes to you when you aren’t obsessing about it. Thoughtfully living in the moment is surprisingly hard when you’re used to thinking ahead five steps at a time or thoughtlessly making poor decisions that have negative consequences. The idea of observing how you feel and sitting comfortably with it ties into the concept of mindfulness, which is my schtick these days.

Mindfulness as a personal goal is still a work in progress for me, but the feeling of ease I have has been phenomenal. Here’s a cool infographic from Information is Beautiful that outlines the benefits of mindfulness, and delineates mindfulness and meditation (…which I have too little patience for. Did you guys ever read about self-mummification?! Off you go on that Wikipedia trail.)


The Author

Singaporean in NYC, analyzing relationships with a boozy brownie in hand.

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