Feelings provide the emotional and spiritual energy we can use to be loving or hateful.










  Other books by Benjamin Conley:
The Spiritual Connection: Values, Faith, and Psychotherapy
Taking the Fear Out of Being Close
Success in Marriage
Making Relationships Work
The Meaning of Love




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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.)

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Excerpt from:
Affirming Feelings
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT

Pages 7-14


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 are personal.

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 with others.

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 sensations.

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 or emotions.

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 effort.

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 ourselves.

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 not.

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, fluid system.

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 you.

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 early experience?

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 sexual abuse?

E: Sexual. . . .(Continues crying)

Th: Yes.

E: . . . I know. . . .(crying begins to lessen) It is hard to separate men and sexual abuse.

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."

This interpretation, 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.

(end of excerpt)

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