To develop feeling literacy takes humility. Many of us consider ourselves “smarter” than our feelings. We think we know all about feeling glad, sad, mad or scared. What more is there to know? Feelings can feel like a nuisance, like excess baggage. They get in the way of our higher, rational, sensible goals. At worst, we may think of our feelings as something toxic or harmful. Better to bury them and hope they go away.
To increase our feeling literacy, we need to start from a position of curiosity. Feelings require patience. They need us to be willing to wait, see and listen. Like a fisherman who throws his line into the lake and waits, we need to be willing to be with ourselves in a way that’s conscious and still, and to sense into our experience. Feeling literacy requires us to be mindful, diligent and open to the world of feelings within us, and to finding ways of identifying and verbalizing these feelings to others. In a relationship, developing feeling literacy helps us know ourselves and our needs better, and bring attention to our own inner life. This is healing in and of itself. But it also helps us communicate who we are more honestly with our partners. Honest, vulnerable communication in relationships tends to increase our chances of connecting. It also has the added benefit of deepening intimacy.
We can’t know ourselves if we don’t know our feelings. And we can’t share ourselves authentically with our partner if we don’t know ourselves.
Socialization often begins with controlling, or hiding, our feelings. It’s protective. Ironically, though, when we hide our feelings too well we can’t connect with ourselves. Our families also consider certain feelings better or worse than others. As a result, we repress our anger or sadness or joy or fear, often disguising the “shamed” emotional experience with other cover-up feelings to camouflage them. This creates a disconnection between us and our inner world. Our feelings get lost in translation. We don’t know aspects of our inner emotional life and so we can’t benefit from the important information they contain. We’re more likely to get confused about our own needs, boundaries, and fears. It’s harder to communicate clearly and directly with our partners.
Becoming “feeling literate” is way of deepening our humanity. Often, this means spending time developing a nuanced awareness of our feelings, matching the words up with the felt experience of emotions in our bodies, learning to pick up on the subtle differences between feelings. Am I angry or irritable? Worried or afraid? Ashamed or embarrassed? We need to learn to thaw out the feelings that we were once shamed for expressing. We need to access the raw intelligence that’s in all of our feelings. When we increase our feeling literacy, the emotional spectrum of our lives broadens.
We celebrate Gay Pride all year long. But this year, we’re doing some special programing for a large-scale campaign #LoveEqually. We’re looking for both sponsors and contributors. Check it out! https://t.co/tkraXFPxLL pic.twitter.com/X2FlBEZb8Y
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 11, 2019