We have been so lucky to meet with Personal Development Coach Vivian Ditmar, who was kind enough to share her latest findings on the basic understanding of feelings and emotions. Don’t we all wish to improve and be our best? Yes, we thought so. We hope you enjoy this revealing piece of advice from this experienced life coach.
“Feelings are something we all deal with on a daily basis, yet more often than not, we are utterly unaware of their true purpose. Let’s face it: for most of us, feelings are simply something to be dealt with, especially the so-called negative feelings”.
Five Basic Feelings
The Emotional Compass is like an inner GPS, equipping us to navigate the turbulences of life. It has the four basicfeelings — anger, sadness, fear and joy — arranged in the four directions. In the center, where the needle would be pinned, is the fifth feeling, shame. It differs from the four outer feelings in that it is directed inwards, towards ourselves.
These five basic feelings are not an arbitrary selection. Together, they enable us to deal with all situations life confronts us with appropriately. Why this is the case and what is so special about exactly this combination becomes obvious when we take a closer look at each feeling.
1. Anger: Taking a stand
Anger is a feeling which comes up when something is not going the way we want it to go. It happens to be a very useful feeling when we know exactly what we want to change and when it is actually within our sphere of influence to do so. An example: I come home and I notice that a sweater I ordered was shipped in the wrong size. The right amount of anger gives me just the appropriate measure of energy to complain to the mail order company, wrap the thing up and send it right back. Very handy.
Anger can, however, be a real nuisance in situations which I can not change, even if I would like to. Like if I lost my phone or my favorite sweater suddenly has a hole in it. Or when a colleague has failed to meet a deadline for the umpteenth time. In these situations, we need a different feeling, like sadness.
2. Sadness: the Power of Acceptance
Like anger, sadness is a feeling which comes up when something is not going the way we want it to go. However, its purpose is to help us accept the situation rather than to change it. These can be little things — like the lost phone or the hole in the sweater — or life changing events, like the death of a loved one. Depending on the intensity of the situation, our sadness will be big or small, yet it will be sadness all the same. In contrast to anger, sadness does not spur us into activity but rather calms us down, helping us to accept that which we can not change. That’s what sadness is good for. There are situations, though, which we can neither accept nor change. This is where a third feeling comes into play: fear.
3. Fear: Meeting the Unknown
Mildly put, this is one of our less popular feelings: fear. We associate it with paralysis, the inability to act and complete helplessness. Yet, just like anger and sadness, fear is meant to fulfill a unique function in our lives. Also fear is a power if we know how to use it.
Since fear appears in situations which we can neither change nor accept, fear is a signal for the unknown. The known is bound to fail here, meaning something entirely new must happen. Like when we lose our job. This unknown can actually bear danger, yet it can also constitute a great opportunity. The thing is: there is no way to know until we confront the situation. This is where fear as a power helps us. It is a signal for the boundary between the known and the unknown. And it can carry us over this threshold.
4. Shame: Questioning Myself
There are times, when it is important to doubt ourselves. In this process, another, generally not very popular feeling, plays a central role: shame. It challenges us to reflect on our values and asks us to check, whether we are living up to them.
Shame is when we turn our attention towards ourselves, taking a look at who we are. Once this redirection of our attention has happened, we can apply each of the other feelings to ourselves: our anger, when we need to get moving, our sadness, when we need to accept parts of us we don’t necessarily like, yet are unable to change, or fear, when we are faced with aspects of our personality we don’t know how to deal with. And yes, of course we can also feel joy about what we find there: perhaps others judge us for something, yet we can still feel good about the way we are!
5. Joy: Appreciating what is
The same applies for joy when it is directed towards something outside of ourselves: this feeling is reserved for everything we consider right or beautiful in the world. This is also why we generally consider joy to be the only positivefeeling in the compass: joy appears when things are the way we want them to be! Each of the other feelings applies to situations which are different than we would like them to be.
Joy is appreciation. It says: I like it! That’s how I want it! That’s what I was hoping for! Unfortunately, we don’t alwaysfeel joy when things are going our way. All too often we take things for granted and miss the opportunity to really enjoy our soft bed in the morning, a successful project launch or a delicious meal. To understand why this is the case, we need to take a closer look at where feelings actually come from.
The Origin of Feelings
The general opinion with regards to feelings is that they are irrational, appear pretty much out of nowhere and disappear just as mysteriously. Upon closer inquiry we realise that this is not accurate. Feelings are created and we are the ones creating them. It is our thoughts, meaning how we interpret a situation, which gives rise to a particular feeling. To be even more accurate: every feeling in the compass is created by a particular interpretation: anger is created by the interpretation that something is “wrong”, sadness that it is “unfortunate”, fear that it is “terrible” and joy that it is “right” or “beautiful”. Shame, in contrast, is triggered by the thought that I myself might be wrong. These basic interpretations are like buttons in our mind, which we press, thereby producing a particular feeling. Yet since this process is usually not conscious, we frequently find ourselves under the impression that our feelings just appear out of nowhere.
Beware of Shadow Feelings
The fact that our feelings are created unconsciously becomes particularly problematic when they are not appearing as powers, giving us exactly what we need in that moment, but in their shadow expression. To be precise: instead of bringing us clarity, anger in its shadow expression becomes destructive — a phenomenon most of us will have witnessed in one form or another.
Sadness in its shadow expression does not lead to positive acceptance of a situation but into passivity and depression.
The shadow of fear is anything but creative. On the contrary: it paralyses us, we become literally frozen.
Similarly, shame in its shadow appearance does not support us in a healthy process of self-reflection. It causes us to criticise ourselves in the most self-destructive way possible. We literally beat ourselves up with judgements.
Yet also our favorite feeling, joy, has a shadow aspect: illusion. In this expression, it makes us lose touch with reality. We talk ourselves into believing that things are okay or even great, when they would actually really need the attention of one of the other feeling powers.