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|Books about positive values, spirituality, and counseling
(This book can help you pursue the
intimate relationships you desire. Please use the text
to stimulate your own thinking and underdstanding about the issues discussed, even when you find something with which you disagree.)
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
FEELINGS: CREATIVE USE OF EMOTIONAL POWER
We have all had the experience
of feeling energetic, having a day during which things go the way
we want them to, generating excitement about new possibilities.
We say we are happy, and look forward to good times to come. The
good times may have to with anything, but some of the best prospects
One set of most delightful
happy feelings comes from "falling in love," that sense of being
connected in a special way with another person. When we fall in
love, even our physical appearance changes, so much so that others
notice the change. A friend may ask, "What's happening in your life?
Are you in love, or something?" At that point, we have been caught
in the act of feeling very good, of enjoying our life so much that
it changes the way we look to others.
When happy, we smile
more, may stand up straighter, may have a bounce in our step, may
be more friendly and cooperative, and may generally act more positively
and energetically. Happiness is a feeling that can result in changed
behavior, flowing from our positive outlook. Feelings affect the
way we do things, providing energy for all sorts of activities.
Feelings can be thought
of as the power behind behavior, the power generating the energy
to survive physically, to maintain organic homeostasis or balance,
and to grow physically and psychologically.
At times, we use the
energy our emotions provide to mobilize our resources in order to
accomplish personality change. At those times, we may change the
ways we think, what we believe, and the ways we behave, alone and
In the process of making
personality changes, we pay attention to our feelings, identify
and re-experience events from our past that have strong feelings
still attached to the memories, and change our beliefs about ourselves,
others, and what to do to be successful in life.
In this process, feelings
are important, since they provide the power to make changes "stick,"
by integrating them into our thinking and behavior.
We identify feelings
in response to physical sensations coming from outside and inside
our bodies. For example, when we see something, our optical nerve
is stimulated, we automatically assign meaning to what we see, our
body responds chemically, and we give a feeling name to our experienced
A similar process occurs
in relation to our senses of smell, taste, hearing, feeling, and
in relation to internally generated stnsations that come from our
bodily functions. We give names like anger, fear, sadness, and happiness
to stimulation that has a basis in our body chemistry and nervous
system, in response to outer and inner stimuli. We call them feelings
We can use our energy
in positive ways, as we do when we are excited about doing a good
job, to maintain a high level of quality in our work. We can use
our excitement in seeing a dear friend to spend time sharing what
is important and to maintain contact after the visit. We can use
our pleasure from the success of a project to plan the next creative
We can also use our energy
destructively by believing destructive thoughts, like "No-one will
ever really care about me," or by doing destructive things, like
withdrawing emotionally from others and refusing to discuss a solution
to a problem. Both of these will generate painful feelings, like
anger and sadness.
How we use our emotional
energy is controlled and directed in at least two ways. One is by
our beliefs about others, as in "No one will ever really care about
me," versus "I know some people care about me." Or we may hold destructive
beliefs about ourselves, as in "I am not important, and deserve
to be rejected." Another type of belief is our interpretation of
events, as in "This is a dangerous situation," versus "There is
no danger here."
It follows that we may
then develop conclusions, a set of beliefs about how to deal with
others and events around us, given our premises about them and about
An example of this is,
"Since no one will ever care about me, and since I don't deserve
to be loved, I am in a dangerous situation if others know what I
am really like, so I will say as little as possible, not get close
others, and settle for being lonely and sad about being disliked."
The second way our emotional
energy is controlled and directed is by our behavior, as when we
act in ways that express anger or fear.
The behavior evokes the
feelings, and we begin to focus our attention on possible ways we
will be treated badly or hurt. We feel and act in self defense,
depending on where we believe the danger lies.
Our beliefs and interpretations,
whether we are aware of them or not, powerfully influence the way
we use our energy to take action. A circular feedback process develops,
with our behavior affecting our experienced bodily sensations, our
bodily sensations affecting our intuitive thinking, and our thinking
and belief system affecting our behavior.
Conscious thinking is
part of our guidance system that can be used intentionally to manage
the energy generated by feelings. Thinking of which we are aware
is an activity of our forebrain to process stimulation from outside
and inside our body. It is the self-conscious part of a cognitive
process that operates continuously, whether we are aware of it or
Conscious thinking and
feeling are like a horse and rider, with the horse providing raw
energy to carry the rider. The rider gives direction to the horse,
making riding a cooperative process coordinating the horse's power
with the rider's objectives. There is a continuous exchange of information
between horse and rider, similar to the feedback loop between thinking
and feeling. Thinking gives direction to the energy generated by
feelings, directed as the individual sees fit.
Another way to think
of the relationship of thinking and feeling is through the physical
study of neuropeptides, that have been called the biochemical correlate
of emotions. Bill Moyers interviewed Candace Pert, Ph.D., a molecular
biologist who discovered the opiate receptor on body cells. They
had the following dialogue:
"Pert: To say, "I am
feeling this," and to analyze that, your brain is of course coming
into play. But there are many emotional messages that don't percolate
up to your level of knowing them. Even so, they are used to run
everything in your body.
Moyers: Wait a minute.
You're saying that my emotions are stored in my body?
Pert: Absolutely. You
didn't realize that?
Moyers: No, I didn't
realize it. I'm not even sure what I mean by that. What's down there?
Pert: Peptides, receptors,
cells. The receptors are dynamic. They're wiggling, vibrating energy
molecules that are not only changing their shape from millisecond
to millisecond, but actually changing what they're coupled to. One
moment they're coupled up to one protein in the membrane, and the
next moment they can couple up to another. It's a very dynamic,
Moyers: And every time
they couple, every time they connect, every time they respond one
to another, chemical messages are being exchanged. And my body responds
differently according to what cell is getting what chemical.
Pert: Absolutely. You
got it. (Healing and the Mind, p. 186)."
We are not always aware
of this biochemical process, but we can understand emotions as part
of our biological functioning. We can think of emotion as a reservoir
of energy available for use in acting the ways we select, whether
we are or are not aware of our feelings.
As a way to explore the
way feeling and thinking are used in our everyday functioning, let
us examine part of a psychotherapy session. In therapy, significant
change involves both thinking and feeling on the part of both the
therapist and the client.
Following is an excerpt
from a therapy session that illustrates the essential, organic relationship
of thinking and feeling: that feelings flow to take the shape indicated
by our thinking and that the physical sensations we experience reflect
a cognitive interpretation of what is happening around us, even
though the interpretation may not be consciously noted.
Ellen is aware of her
feelings, usually not "at a loss" to identify feelings. She had
been sexually abused and physically beaten as a child, and had adopted
a guarded style of relating for purposes of self defense.
At the time of this interchange,
the therapist and client had been meeting weekly for about eighteen
months, and are about ten minutes into the session.
"Ellen: I am not sure
why, but I am concerned about whether you approve of the way I do
things, the way I operate.
Therapist: Is that something
you want to explore in order to understand further what you may
be anxious about?
E: Yes, I worry about
whether you will approve of me.
Th: What do you suppose
that is about?
E: I don't know. But
I want you to approve of me, so I'm careful about what I say with
Th: What do you need
to know to reassure yourself?
E: I'm not sure. . .
Th. Could I say something
that would be reassuring to you?
E: . . . I don't know.
Maybe, but nothing comes to me. . . .
Th: Perhaps some particular
words would be helpful. . . . What words you would like me to say,
so that you would not be anxious about my accepting you as you are?
E. I don't think of anything.
. . . Actually, you already do accept me as I am. I have the same
experience with Mary, and Alice. . . . But they are women. You do
tell me in various ways. You affirm me already. (pause) . . . (beginning
of tears) . . . I think it's associated with abuse. I just thought
of that. (She is now crying softly.)
Th: Something from your
E: Yes. I'm amazed that
pops up in this new way. . . . (more tears) It doesn't have to do
with you, it has to do with abuse.
Th: Physical . . . or
E: Sexual. . . .(Continues
E: . . . I know. . .
.(crying begins to lessen) It is hard to separate men and sexual
Th: Yes. . . .
E: Whew. . . . (pause)
. . . I had no idea that was part of being afraid you would disapprove.
I was afraid you would treat me badly."
Here is the interpretation
Ellen seems to have made, based on her experience: "I am afraid
I will be intruded upon sexually because in this therapy situation
I like the therapist and want approval from him. That is similar
to when I was little and I loved my father and wanted approval from
him. He took advantage of my love and dependence on him to abuse
me sexually. So I decided never to let myself be emotionally open
or care what a man thinks again. That way I wouldn't be vulnerable
to being overpowered and hurt again by any man."
or something similar, was not consciously available to Ellen at
first, though it was present unconsciously and operating to create
her "protective" anxiety. I am using "thinking" to represent the
cognitive process of interpreting events, even though the meaning
and historical antecedents may be out of awareness. A cognitive
process is operating, in or out of awareness; the word "thinking"
symbolizes the process.