Feeling the Feelings

Sometimes when I speak or write, a truth comes out that I didn’t know I knew, but I’ve come to trust those words as if they were . . . well, true.

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend about emotions that are considered negative, such as sorrow and anger and loneliness. She said she didn’t have anyone but me to talk about such things with because other people want her to feel more positive.

I heard myself saying, “There are no positive or negative feelings. There are simply feelings.” And I realized that’s true. What we do with those feelings — such as take out our anger on our families — could be construed as negative, but the feelings themselves have no positive or negative connotations. Like in physics. Protons have what is called positive charge while electrons have what is called a negative charge, but there is no good/bad connotation for those names. As far as I can understand, they are more about push/pull than what we think of as positive and negative. Batteries have a positive and negative side, but again, but sides work together as a whole rather than one side being good and the bad, or one being right and the other wrong.

It’s the yin/yang of life — the cosmic duality, the two opposing and complementing principles that guide the universe and all things in it.

And so it is with feelings. We feel happiness and sadness, anger and fear, pride and shame — sometimes both sides of the feeling at the same time. Other humans are always trying to categorize us in some way, not just by our vocation or avocation (writer, scientist, teacher, parent) but also what sort of personality we have (optimistic, pessimistic, melancholic) as well as our political and religious beliefs, but we are not any one thing.

The truth is, we are not one-dimensional creatures; we are each a universe unto ourselves and have an infinite number of sides. We aren’t limited to the so-called “positive” feelings; we have a wide-range of feelings that we can — and should — feel.

It’s not important what we feel at any given moment. It’s only important that we feel. (Even if we’re not actively feeling anything, we’re feeling something — serenity, perhaps.)

Even the less compelling emotions, the less admirable ones such as envy or loathing are important to feel if we’re feeling them, if for no other reason than to figure out why we feel such things. Do we want to be more like those people we envy or loathe? Do we see ourselves in them? It’s only after identifying the reason for the feeling that we can take action to neutralize the effect of the feeling. But the feeling itself is merely a feeling. It is not a judgement call.

On a more personal level, grief for a life mate/soul mate might be uncomfortable for others to witness, but that grief belongs to us. We need to feel it; it’s how we become what we need to become to continue living in this world without our mates. We don’t need to figure out why we are feeling the chaotic mix of emotions that comprise grief. We know what caused it — the death of a person dear to us. We just need to feel what it is we are feeling.

Feeling a whole range of emotions teaches us to be compassionate and understanding of others. It allows us to accept compassion and understanding from others. It helps us understand (and perhaps even create) ourselves. It help us take action when necessary. It helps us survive in the wilderness of human interactions.

So, whatever I am feeling, I let myself feel it. Whatever you are feeling, just feel it. Don’t let anyone try to squelch your feelings.

Feeling the feelings is better for all of us in the long run.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Life is a Present

Someone reminded me the other day that life is a gift. Someone else told me that my deceased life mate/soul mate is in a better place. The juxtaposition of these two ideas used to perplex me. If life is a gift, why was it denied him? If he is in a better place, why am I here? I don’t think about this conundrum any more, at least not much. Somewhere along the line I conceded that he might have gotten the better end of the deal. (It was easier to accept his death that way than to think he was missing out.)

gift2Life, with all its pain and trauma, seems a dubious gift at best. It’s more like a present, something that was presented to us whether we wanted it or not. Or like a presence: being present (being here now) in the present (this moment).

Considering all the possible gamete connections, it’s amazing that any of us are here. (Though I suppose it’s like the lottery. Someone will win the lottery even though the possibility of any one person winning it is astronomically small.) Our presence could be deemed a gift, yet there is the matter of pain and trauma, angst and ill health, grief and stress and old age, along with all the trials of everyday life. (There’s no need to mention joy or wealth or friendship or any of the other wonders of life — we know those are gifts without ever having to look for a bright side since they are the bright side.)

Perhaps the gift of life is emotion — joy and sadness, laughter and tears and all of the thousand other emotions that we humans experience, both pleasant and unpleasant.

When my profound grief over the death of my soul mate started to wane, I missed it, as odd as that might seem. There was something so very immense about such grief, as if I were standing on the edge of eternity, one foot poised above the abyss. I also missed the constant life lessons grief taught me about myself, about will and survival, even about the workings of our bodies. Would I choose to feel such grief for the rest of my life? Of course not, though knowing I will always have upsurges of sorrow doesn’t bother me like it used to. Mostly, I am grateful I was able to feel such grief and to honor his life in such a way.

It’s rather a literary cliché, one that most of us have come to believe, that the more intelligent a person or species is, the less emotional. Mr. Spock from Star Trek and Lucy from the recent movie Lucy are two such examples. But what if this belief is not true? What if emotion is a form of intelligence, and the more emotional we are the more intelligent? Are ants emotional? Are cockroaches or rats or cows? I don’t think so. Some animals do feel some sort of emotion, but no other creature can experience the range of feeling we do.

(Even if emotion isn’t a gift, it probably has some sort of survival mechanism because otherwise, why would emotion have developed?)

Not even all humans feel emotion. Sociopaths don’t feel emotions, or if they do, the emotions are very shallow. (There could be 30,000 non-killing sociopaths for every murderous sociopath, so this is a fairly common emotional disorder. See: Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath.)

So perhaps life is a gift after all, including all the parts like pain and sorrow that we would just as soon live without.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.