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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

On Feelings

Updated: Sep 4, 2023



I sat in a patient room while waiting to be seen by my primary care provider (PCP). Behind me was a wall containing therapeutic pamphlets which addressed emotions (e.g., sorrow). In front of me was a medical chart illustrating various bodily sensations (e.g., stomach cramps).


Thinking about these materials, I reflected upon the colloquial use of the word “feeling.” Generally, people misapply the term when referencing thoughts, beliefs, and hunches.


For instance, if I ask person X what film she wants to watch at the movie theater, she may misuse the term by replying, “I don’t know what I feel like seeing.” Here, “feel” could be substituted with any derivative of the word “think,” and this would be an appropriate use of the term.


As well, I may inquire about person Y’s choice of a political candidate and he may wrongly use the term by saying, “I felt he was the only one who could’ve gotten us out of that mess.” In this case, “felt” could be replaced with “believed” and convey the actual intent of person Y’s message.


Likewise, I may question how person Z arrived at a particular conclusion and she may state, “I had a feeling about it.” With this example, “feeling” was incorrectly used when “hunch” would’ve been the more suitable option.


At this point, you may ask, “Deric, why are you so pedantic when it comes to word usage if you know what message a person is trying to convey?” In response to this, I direct the reader to a blog entry I posted, entitled In Theory, in which I stated:


I reflect upon my Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) training during which one trainer admitted to being a “stickler” for proper word usage—someone whose perspective with which I identify.


The words we use matter. By encouraging people to appropriately use the word “feel,” or any derivative thereof, I empower others to properly communicate for the sake of understanding.


Therefore, a feeling relates to an emotion or bodily sensation. First, I may naturally feel primary emotions such as joy, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust, or surprise—all without forethought or belief preceding the emotive experience.


However, thoughts or beliefs often precede secondary and tertiary emotions like being excited, anxious, apathetic, confident, jealous, or hopeful. Often, the mental content that impacts emotional outcomes contains specific messages.


For instance, I may inflexibly demand that others should, must, or ought to respect me. When people inevitably disrespect me it isn’t their behavior with which I disturb myself into an unpleasant emotive experience, it’s my irrational belief that causes suffering.


As well, expression of low frustration tolerance can generate unhelpful emotions. Saying something like, “I can’t stand that this is happening to me,” sends the message through the mind and into the body that one literally cannot tolerate or accept whatever is occurring.


Additionally, global evaluations of oneself, others, and the world can produce an unwanted emotive response. These generalized denigrations occur when we condemn based on unmet expectations (e.g., Person Y didn’t return my text, so he’s an asshole!).


Auxiliary emotions which are created by what we think and believe are the feelings, not the thoughts and beliefs themselves. Second, I may instinctively feel bodily sensations such as tight shoulders, a rapid heartrate, or tingling in my feet—all without forethought or belief preceding sensory experience.


Examples include myalgia (muscle aches or pain) following intense physical training, tachycardia (racing heart rate) after consuming caffeine, or peripheral neuropathy (weakness, numbness, tingling, or pain) in my feet, which is due to metabolic syndrome. Preceding thoughts and beliefs may be of little consequence in these instances.


However, the way in which we think or believe can also cause aching muscles, a racing heart, and tingling in one’s feet—absent another reasonable explanation. For instance, if I sat in my PCP’s patient room and believed I would have an unbearable visit, I could induce the feeling of an accelerated heartbeat.


Worry of this sort is influenced by believing something like, “The doctor mustn’t give me bad news, because I don’t think I can stand it if she does!” In this regard, anxiousness impacts both the feeling of fright and an uncomfortable heart rate.


Finally, a hunch is a guess based on intuition rather than known facts. Here, intuition describes the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.


Though people tend to irrationally believe that hunches are emotive in nature, it is one’s thought or belief that leads to an emotional or sensational experience. Hereof, I may believe I know there is life on another planet and this hunch results in excitement and shallow breathing.


“Ok, Deric,” you may say, “how does any of this relate to therapy?” Often, I hear nonsense such as, “You can’t invalidate my feelings,” which I presume relates to emotions and sensations. I actually agree with a declaration of this sort.


I can’t tell person X she isn’t sad or person Y he isn’t mad. Likewise, I have no way of disproving whether or not person Z is experiencing the effects of a headache.


In this regard, I truly can’t invalidate feelings—emotions or bodily sensations. However, I suspect that when people misuse “feelings” when referring to thoughts and beliefs, the claim that these mental processes cannot be invalidated is entirely incorrect.


This is the very function of REBT—to challenge unhelpful cognitions and belief systems which create unpleasant emotional, sensory, and behavioral consequences. Therefore, correctly identifying “feelings” in this regard allows for invalidation of unproductive thoughts and beliefs.


Given the distinction between emotions and sensations—collectively, “feelings”—it’s my hope that the reader understands how saying something like, “I feel like eating tacos,” isn’t entirely useful. After all, I wouldn’t say, “I sorrow like eating tacos,” or, “I tingling feet like eating tacos.”


Accordingly, I invite you to consider “feelings,” as outlined herein, the next time you use “feel”—or any derivative thereof. Would you like to know more about how thoughts and beliefs impact the way you feel?


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW



References:


Hollings, D. (2022, October 31). Demandingness. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/demandingness

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/

Hollings, D. (2023, July 15). In theory. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/in-theory

Hollings, D. (2023, May 18). Irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/irrational-beliefs

Hollings, D. (2023, January 8). Logic and reason. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/logic-and-reason

Hollings, D. (2022, December 2). Low frustration tolerance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/low-frustration-tolerance

Hollings, D. (2022, March 25). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-rebt

Hollings, D. (2022, November 1). Self-disturbance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/self-disturbance

Hollings, D. (2022, October 7). Should, must, and ought. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/should-must-and-ought

Hollings, D. (2023, February 16). Tna. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/tna

Toboas, W. (2016). Global evaluations of others & fundamental attribution error. The Albert Ellis Institute. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/2016/05/global-evaluations-of-others-fundamental-attribution-error/

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