We look at ourselves as a single being, but in reality, there are (at least) two distinct parts to mental life: a feeling self and an observer self. Sometimes the two are aligned, at other points, it’s far trickier.
Reasons it is difficult for the observing self to report accurately on feelings:
1. We are afflicted background ideas about the unacceptability of particular feelings. We might worry that no decent person could be enthusiastic about making money or unable to cope at work, tempted by an affair or still upset over a break up three years ago. Our sexual impulses may not fit the definition of a good boy or girl.
2. When feeling do emerge, the observing self can take fright and look away. Rather than taking an honest account, it may go numb or try to file a report that is more acceptable than true. “I’m feeling very tired” rather than “I’m feeling you’ve let me down”; “I’m depressed” rather than “I’m furious”; “That’s absolutely disgusting” rather than “I’m strangely turned on”.
3. Powerful feeling such as upset, envy, and frustration, can be trigger by apparently trivial things. We may be surprised that something so strong could be inside of us without a large external cause. We may become envious when we learn of a friend’s promotion or indignant and have wounded pride when a partner looks away before we finish our story about a tough day at work.
4. We don’t own up to many feelings of upset because acknowledging them involves a humiliating degree of fragility. Yet, feelings that haven’t been acknowledged can’t go away and their energy may spread. Envy comes out as spite. Anger may come out as an insulting remark, ruining any change of being comforted. Unrecognized feelings may develop tick, facial twitches, impotence, an incapability to work, alcoholism, or a porn compulsion. Many addictions are at heart symptoms of unaddressed feelings.
How can we better observe our feelings?
1. Reading to get a sense of perspective and self-recognition
2. Self-observation which gives repressed feelings a chance to come forward.
3. The company of open minded people who help us identify our feelings more correctly.
Understanding the gap within ourselves between what we feel and what we are aware of brings forgiveness and understanding for the similar situations of others. Feelings shouldn’t always be followed, but they should be acknowledged so as not to exert a malign subterranean influence.