I run a therapy group on Thursday evenings with a focus on relationships. A couple of weeks ago we had an interesting discussion about distinguishing between thoughts and feelings and emotions. We decided that it’s useful to distinguish between feelings and emotions by defining emotions as the reflexive reactions that rise and fall outside of our control. Feelings are created when we attach to emotions, usually via our thoughts. For example, imagine you are sitting at home on the couch and you suddenly feel a wave of sadness (emotion). You recognize it and start to think: “Am I getting depressed? Why am I feeling this way? I don’t want to feel this way.” The sadness has transformed from the initial sensation into a persisting state (feeling).
Clinging to certain emotions or wanting to push them away only serves to create the opposite effect. We inadvertently create the illusion of permanence with all the attributions that we make regarding a given emotion. This creates a pathway to pain and suffering.
The good news is that there is much more choice involved in this process than we think. We can cultivate an awareness of the workings of our minds by simply noticing when thoughts and emotions arise. This process of awareness serves to distinguish between the observer and the mind. This awareness implies that we are not our thoughts or our emotions. It can sound very philosophical, but the manifestation of this awareness is very tangible.
Mindfulness meditation embodies this practice of observing the mind without judgment or attachment. A great book to read for those that are interested in exploring this is “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
By David B Younger, PhD, CGP, PC
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