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

Reclaiming “Can’t”

After my second dance class four or so years ago, I was chatting with a fellow student as we changed into our street shoes. “I don’t know why I can’t do this,” I said, referring to the few dance steps I’d been trying to learn.

Another woman (Rhett in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare) said not to me, but to the teacher, “I hate people who say can’t.”

That seemed so rude to me, I was rendered speechless, but the woman I’d been talking to spoke up. “Pat didn’t say she wouldn’t try or that she’d never be able to do it but that she can’t do it now.” I smiled at her in gratitude, thanked her for sticking up for me, and said, “If I could understand why I can’t do the steps, maybe I’d be able to do them. I’m going to continue to try, of course, but at the moment, my feet won’t do what they’re supposed to.”

Rhett responded, “I can take you to a grocery store where you will see a lot of cans, but you won’t see a single can’t.”


Despite that inauspicious beginning, Rhett and I generally got along. But I was careful not to say “can’t” unless I was in a contrary mood, even though my feet often didn’t do what they were supposed to.

Now, though, I’m back to saying “can’t” because there are many things I can no longer do. And again, people (though not Rhett) are giving me a hard time for using the word.

Their attitude mystifies me. What difference could it possibly make to anyone if I say “can’t”?

Even if I refrained from saying “can’t,” it wouldn’t help. My left arm, wrist, and elbow seem normal enough for most things (which is why people often forget there are things I can’t do) but none of those parts work right. The  arm is twisted a bit, doesn’t reach areas of my body it used to be able to reach, such as my left shoulder, and doesn’t have a lot of strength. The elbow creaks and groans, and the fingers don’t close properly. (We’re not even talking pain here, simply range of motion.) I am working to improve all these areas, but there are physical limitations to what I will ever be able to do.

I am grateful for the things I can do and accepting of the things I can’t. In a way, saying “can’t” honors both what I can and cannot do because it speaks the truth. Truth is more important to me, and will always be more important to me than a fake positivity.

Besides, can’t is a perfectly respectable word despite its negative reputation. Sometimes it reflects a cry of frustration rather than refusal to try. Sometimes it’s a sign of momentary defeat and offers a respite from the stress of trying. And sometimes it’s the simple truth.

So, I’m reclaiming “can’t.”

And you can’t stop me.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.