As a therapist, it’s not uncommon to have friends and acquaintances joke and tease me about the famous therapist question: “How does that make you feel?”
Let’s take a moment to consider why this question is helpful. What’s behind it?
As I’ve written previously:
“Language gives you a map of your inner world and experiences. Having the words to express what you think and how you feel is a treasure map. Discover your story with meaningful expression, and you’ll get to the gold. Insights come to the degree that we can communicate them.”
But why is it important to focus on expressing our feelings?
To understand the answer to this question, it would be helpful to step back, reflect on a few fundamental terms, and then consider the value of vulnerability.
Thoughts are your ideas, your opinion, the stories you tell, and the metaphors you use. Thoughts are how you make a representation of meaning.
Feelings are physical sensations we have about our thoughts and our external stimuli. We feel because we are alive. We may feel pain because of a chemical imbalance or because our nervous system communicates risk, and we may experience fear because our nervous system communicates perceived risk. Therefore, our perceptions or our thoughts can influence our physical experience of our feelings, both pleasant feelings, and unpleasant feelings.
Intimacy is the experience of being deeply known, trusted, valued, desired, and loved. Intimacy is not primarily about sex, although sex is healthy when it is an intense and powerful form of intimacy and trust.
Transparency is revealing facts, feelings, and thoughts about yourself. Sometimes this feels good when we have thoughts that attach a positive or hopeful meaning to this transparency.
Vulnerability is the felt experience of uncertainty, emotional risk, and meaningful exposure.
Being vulnerable opens your inner self up to others, and taking that risk enables you to be more connected with yourself and experience a deeper trust and intimacy with others.
What fuels our choice to be vulnerable?
The desire to be known, connect, love, and be loved. In a word, intimacy.
At our core, we long for connection. We are social beings; we can avoid, isolate, and run from intimacy, yet we will still want it. We will feel lonely, resentful, ashamed, or just distracted and shallow until we take the risk of being deeply known.
The choice is up to you. Will you commit to vulnerability?
Vulnerability is required for any profound transformation or creative act.
Without vulnerability, there are no trusted friendships, mature community, or sense of belonging to others. Without exposure to risk, there is no intimacy. Without intimacy, there can be no deeply meaningful relationships.
Vulnerability is the seed for growing a trusted friendship, a lifelong love, and any valued partnerships.
Without vulnerability, there is no intimacy.
So just how powerful and valuable is vulnerability? Vulnerability is a necessary part of your growth in the following ways: strengthen friendships heal trauma grow self-confidence recover from addictions increase joy in marriage decrease the frequency and intensity of conflicts empower others gain powerful new awareness encourage others reduce fear deepen peace increase influence
If this feels too good to be true, wait. These promises are possible and will come in time if you lean in and trust the process.
Learning to reflect on and answer the question, “how does that make you feel?” helps your brain process an event and your thoughts about the event.
Feelings are true in that they exist and can be felt. But feelings are not thoughts. One way to powerfully access the meaning we make, or the stories we tell ourselves, is through talking about our feelings.
We can learn to see our feelings as clues or cues of the meaning we have made.
Talking about our feelings helps grow our awareness and vocabulary and the map of our inner world.
Learning to identify our feelings is a helpful skill if you want to grow in improving your relationships, your influence and leadership, healing unresolved pain and trauma, and engaging in meaningful and creative work.
Where do I find the greatest pleasure and joy?
What experience in my life is most difficult to talk about?
Who can I tell today about how I feel?
“Secure connectors have learned how to both give and receive. Sound simple? Yet we often observe an imbalance as people tend to favor one or the other. Good givers are aware of the feelings and needs of others, and they confidently extend themselves as listeners and comforters. Good receivers are aware of and communicative about their emotions, and they possess the vulnerability to admit their need to others.”
Milan and Kay Yerkovich, How We Love
“The stuff it takes to be intimate is authenticity, vulnerability, and a belief that other people are about as good and bad as we are. And I’m learning these core values contribute to more than just healthy love stories, they contribute to healthy families, healthy parenting.”
Donald Miller, Donald. Scary Close
How does reading this make you feel? I'd love to know. Or let someone else know and share your thoughts and feelings with a friend.