Don’t Trust Your Feelings

“Do whatever you feel.” That kind of advice has ruined a generation.

Emerging from the 1960’s counter-culture and certain schools of psychology, the focus on anchoring in emotions has had a number of unexpected consequences. One is that ideals of maturity rooted in religious and, philosophical traditions seem to have been lost.  From that point of view a mature person does not simply act on impulse or from emotion.  Rather they learn to refine and witness their emotions – especially the ones which can be problematic and harmful to their larger life goals and relationships.  By doing this, they are able to take a broader and longer view taking into account the good of their family and community alongside their own desires and wishes.

Now this may sound somewhat stuffy, but even at the basic level related to  such tasks as trying to gain employment, we see this problem manifesting. With sharp humour, author Karen Kelsky advises those seeking jobs in the academy that “Yourself is the Last Person You Should Be” in job interviews . Rather, as she writes in “The Professor is In” the applicant needs to craft a workable professional persona, (false self). Not to do this, according to Kelsky, is to self-juvenilize and appear to be lacking in maturity, confidence and competence… pretty scary.

A growing number of those who work in the field of psychology, psychotherapy and spiritual care are acknowledging that we are no longer facing a culture based on strict personal limitations and suppression of feelings, as was the case in earlier days. Rather we are living in a culture with an expectation to be authentic and expressive in all life situations. Problems with emotional self-regulation, addictions and personality fragmentation are now more prevalent than ever, as the means to achieve this authenticity are not as identifiable as “depression and anxiety”, for example. Inauthenticity is not a diagnosis. One must seek out this kind of help through self awareness.

Philosophical and religious traditions offer a variety of approaches that can contribute to healthy levels of mental and emotional self-regulation. These include self awareness, meditation, spiritual practices embedded in a worldview that is not simply focused on the desires of the individual.  A mind that is left undeveloped (or not nurtured ) is viewed as potentially our worst enemy. An undisciplined mind is understood as being a sure cause of mental pain and anxiety. Yet the same mind that is a source of suffering, can also be the means of attaining a level of emotional and spiritual intelligence, with the help of cognitive therapy and other spiritual and emotional disciplines. (Taking thoughts captive).

Arising out of this perception of the dual nature of the mind, spiritual disciplines have developed a rich toolkit of practices aimed at cultivating capacities such as empathy, compassion, forgiveness, releasing of judgements, and discovering purpose.  These philosophies of the mind, feelings and emotions, are grounded in ideas of a well -lived, well balanced life, rather that just the desires of the moment. The goal, even according to God, is freedom… freedom to “be” genuinely who we are, and this free to become all we are intended to be.

BH/ Adapted – G. McCann – “Return to Stillness”

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