At the heart of the work I do with individuals and couples is exploring the depth of emotions through identifying them, articulating them, and owning them. Sometimes though, it’s tough for people to differentiate between what they are feeling and what they are thinking. For example, I asked a male married client what he was feeling when his wife continually asked him whether he had taken the dog for a walk. “I feel like she’s being a pain in my ass!” he responded.
When I gently pointed out that this was a thought and not a feeling, he did not understand the distinction I was making. I told him that a feeling is an emotion, which is often linked to thoughts, but that what we think mentally and what we feel emotionally can be experienced separately. I have found that for some people, it is difficult for them to know what they are feeling, even though they may be experiencing a strong reaction.
In such cases, I may offer options of potential feelings. I like Lucia Capacchione's nine “Families of Feelings,” to assist in this process. The nine families of feelings include: Happy, Sad, Angry, Afraid, Playful, Loving, Confused, Depressed, and Peaceful. So in the above example, the gentlemen may have been feeling agitated (Angry), hurt or discouraged (Sad), anxious (Afraid) and conflicted (Confused). Although I’m careful not to put words in people’s mouths, I’ve found that this can start to bridge the gap between mind and body, thoughts and emotions. This “emotional intelligence” allows us to understand ourselves better and therefore have more meaningful and joyful (Happy) relationships.