Barriers to Feeling

Let’s face it, as much as we might be able to admit the benefits that connecting with or facing one’s feelings, there are some serious barriers that can block us from those feelings.

For one, feelings are inconvenient. They tell us things that deviate from any plans we might set, any beliefs we might have, and may require time from us that we’re not ready to spend. They may completely call us to change our lives. And this change is for the better, mind you! But it’s still change.

Fear can also be a factor, and guilt, and various other things. Below I’ve compiled a list of major blockages to feelings that can stop one from really working and connecting with feelings.

Inconvenience

As I mentioned before, inconvenience can be a major factor. In our day to day lives, what is convenient for us can be seen as worthwhile, while the inconvenient things become unpreferred.

Examples: we get a microwave to conveniently heat food, we have a TV to conveniently entertain ourselves with, we get a car to conveniently go places in. There can be a cost to these things, but the cost is paid in order to acquire the resulting convenient benefit.

When it comes to feelings, they can be purposefully disruptive. For example, a feeling of unfairness can lead us to confront something that we otherwise could’ve let slide. Feeling lost could lead us into a lengthy process of reexamination and reevaluation, where many activities we relied upon get questioned.

These sorts of experiences get us to reconstruct our life to one that feels more right to us, or may prompt us to action that actually produces results we feel good about. It can bring us to break free of abuse, it can bring us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us, it can allow us to see through deception, and to feel good inside. There are many other benefits, but these are some.

The thing is, in order to experience the benefits of a connection to our feelings, we must be willing to pay the cost. Cost of time, of reflection, of experiencing even the most deeply painful of feelings so as to understand and work with them, till they become something more healed, joyful, or free. We cannot force our way with our feelings, either. Things like stubbornness will often fail, and it can require great patience to truly connect and meet feelings where they are. We have to be willing to put aside the perceived benefits of ignoring them, or at least recognize and confront those benefits. Experiences of immediate pleasure can often distract from the deeper experiences, and we can get lost in addiction to things that only take place on the level of our senses and mind. It takes a certain amount of discipline to see past those lures, and to recognize one’s own desires to escape the inner realities, for an outer distraction.

Moreover, connection to feelings can be an ongoing, multi-faceted thing. It’s not a matter of working through an issue once and being done with feelings, at least until the next major crisis. No – feelings, powerful or subtle, can come up at any time, and unless we incorporate into our regular lives time to listen for our feelings openly, we may not hear them, and the problems that these feelings point to, or the questions they might want to explore, might go unanswered for a long time, building up over time till indeed you do have a crisis on your hands, one that could’ve been foreseen and dealt with in pieces beforehand. Furthermore, just because we’re listening for one type of feeling and consider ourselves open to it, doesn’t mean we’re being open to all types of feelings. For instance, we can be open to sadness while closed to anger – yet we might consider ourselves “connected to our feelings” given the sadness, as an excuse to avoid dealing with the anger, which may be more difficult for us to handle.

Thus, you can see that, while from a certain perspective feelings can seem “inconvenient” – the changes required to integrate feelings into one’s personal life are still necessary in order to receive the myriad benefits that come from that connection. You need to be able to recognize the real danger of self-deception when it comes to feelings, too. It’s very easy to say “I’ve got that taken care of”, while not taking the time to really reflect and be open to every kind of feeling that may come up in you in the moment. Really, it takes being able to put aside impatience and a love of convenience, and instead commit to listening to the deeper things of life.

If you think about it, in a lot of areas on this site, I try to make it easier to connect and work with your feelings – giving you tools and methods for doing so. That said, they still take action, they still require initiative! This is not something that happens automatically in life, or can ever be provided to you. It must be something you yourself own and tend to, and only you can know, in your honest knowledge of yourself, whether or not you really are. And even then, one can always improve.

Fear

Feelings can be extremely frightening. Not only is there the actual experience of fear, but there are many aspects to feelings that can evoke fear.

Some examples:

  • Fear of change – feelings can cause you to reconsider your course in life and enact changes that, while they might feel good, are outside the norm. They can get you to consider things you never thought you would, for instance questioning a life situation you’re used to idealizing, whether it be a relationship, living situation, or a career path. The feelings can cause you to consider breaking from the norm, even if for something better.
  • Fear of loss – similar to fear of change, we can fear the loss of what we’ve come to know or love in our lives – routines, relationships, patterns of behavior, what other people think of us, etc. However, sometimes it is natural for things to fade from our lives, and feelings can alert us to when we’re hanging on to such an extent that we blind ourselves to where things actually stand and what our current reality is truly composed of, when all is allowed to leave if it already has.
  • Fear of sacrifice – sometimes, working with our feelings can bring us to the realization that something we hold dear has to take a lower priority in our lives than something else we feel is important. This can be scary, even if we can see clearly how holding onto certain things is damaging us. There has to be an element of bravery when it comes to letting something go in the face of such fear.
  • Fear of that which is not “us” – feelings can surprise us in that they can be feelings we don’t identify with. These can be things that “other” or “lesser” people feel – not us! And yet, when experiencing a foreign feeling, it’s still up to us to be honest about what we’re facing. It may not be what we’re used to or what we identify with, but if we’re feeling it, it’s present, and ignoring it can have serious consequences. We can end up ignoring a side of ourselves, and feeling torn apart in life, like we’re being pulled in two directions, which can produce confused or panicky behavior in our day to day.
    • In addition, experiencing foreign feelings can lead us to fear a loss of identity socially, as well as internally. If we start to become someone new, how will others love us as they have? How will they react? And honestly, you can never 100% predict that. Even so, part of facing this fear involves accepting that relationships and the perception of you may change. If others can’t accept the new version of the honest you, then that is not yours to control. There may yet be other people who will accept it.
  • Fear of inconvenience or discomfort – yeah, sometimes we can fear the inconvenience feelings may cause us. We can fear having to let go of other activities in our day to look at feelings, or worse, what we may have to give up in our life in one area, in order to move into something that may actually make more sense for us and feel better long-term.
  • Fear of one’s self – the feelings we have can cause us to question things about ourselves like our own sanity, our ability to see sense, our ability to be trusted, and so on. Our honest feelings can seem like a threat, and thus we, the feeler, can seem like a threat. Thus, we can get caught in a situation of self-distrust.
  • Fear of failure – when wrangling with feelings, there can be a definite fear that one’s approach to one’s feelings will yield some kind of failure. Maybe they make mistakes, maybe they listen to the wrong feeling, maybe they mess things up in the whole interaction, maybe they let feelings control them – all these kinds of fears can be there. However, there has to be a certain amount of bravery and willingness when opening up, so that you can pursue success – in things like feeling good, at peace, or balanced – without being held back by a fear of things going badly.
  • Fear of the experience of feeling – the very intensity of feelings themselves can drive us away. Past, unresolved traumas, especially, can make it hard to connect with certain feelings associated with that trauma. But even without that aspect to it, we can get the sense when thinking about certain things or doing certain things that we end up experiencing feelings we’d rather avoid, even if thinking or doing those things are what we’d naturally want to do. The experience can be hard, but feeling, recognizing, releasing, and letting ourselves flow, even with the most painful feelings, can help us to grow and experience life more deeply and fully.
  • Fear of conflict – not only can feelings bring us to the realization of the importance of facing certain outer conflicts, but feelings themselves can very often be conflicted. And not only will these feelings conflict with you and your goals, but with each other as well. Being willing to listen to all sides of a conflict, to mediate, to listen, and to fail to resolve things quickly can all be part of facing this fear.

Guilt

In life, we can set certain standards for ourselves for who we want to be, and also what we want to feel. And when we can sense a feeling that doesn’t line up with what we want in that area, we can constrict and turn away from ourselves, even deny that such a thing is there. We become closed, instead of open, and the experience of feeling is lost or obscured.

The truth is, there is nothing wrong with feeling any feeling. It is beyond our control. How we approach and handle feelings is up to us.

We don’t have to feel guilty when we feel something we’re not “supposed to” feel. For instance, a lack of sadness when you think you should be grieving. Or, anger when you “should be” okay with something, or the anger is evoked by a friend’s behavior. The feelings we have are still important and have their own justification, they just not be what we anticipated, or, again, found to be convenient.

In any case, to counteract guilt over feelings, one must be willing to question one’s own moral strictness. Moral strictness can unfairly diminish the reality of a person in favor of some ideal standard of behavior. It is, essentially, close-minded. However, openness allows for a chance to learn, in this case about one’s self and one’s feelings. And through that learning and openness, you share a connection with your feelings and become better able to navigate and work with them on a daily basis. You listen, but choose only when it feels right. You don’t let feelings control you, but you still encourage the information to flow back and forth between you and your feelings. Thus you begin to have a working relationship with them, in which they can help you without directing you, and the whole experience can feel positive for you.

Pride and Denial

If we already have the inner area of our life covered, then what’s the point in looking into it? What’s the point in considering different kinds of behavior?

The trap of pride is such that we begin to resist seeing ourselves clearly, and instead start to feel like such sight is a threat.

Having a sense of undeniable pride in who we are and what we do or have done can be a ripe ground for denial to bloom. When we like where we’re at, including potentially a lack of being criticized or feeling self-doubtful, then we can try to close ourselves off to any feelings that might contradict that idealized state.

We have to be willing to see that who we’ve been doesn’t ever dictate, good or bad, who we are or where we’ll end up. In every moment, we have the chance to experience our feelings. They are ever-present. And the things they can tell us, such as about the integrity or goodness of what we’re doing, can change. If we don’t listen to those signals or engage in an interaction with them, then we stand to lose whatever wisdom they could’ve shared with us, and as such we might blindly head down the pathways to harmful behavior. Indeed, when it comes to pride we might head down harmful pathways while fulling admitting that they are such, reveling in the rebelliousness of it, while missing out on a sense of balance in our lives.

Sensory Distraction

The senses can easily pull us away from feelings. There’s so much to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. It can be fascinating, mesmerizing! And while it can be fine to explore that space, using it as a means to escape the experiences of feeling can lead to a hollow kind of life. You may feel wonderful on the surface, but deeper down, there may be feelings that never go away, but only get covered. There can be things like background anxiety or impatience. Indeed, impatience can be a good indicator that something else is going on, and that there’s a priority in your feelings that isn’t being met by your current activity.

In essence, taking the time in your life for your feelings, especially when they ask for your attention, can lead to the reduced need to try and escape those feelings through the experience of the sensory or external.

Pleasure

Pleasure falls into a similar category as Sensory Distraction, but is more general. Many things can be pleasurable, even certain feelings or thoughts! Comfort can be pleasurable, but trying to feel comfortable when you have honest feelings of pain, displeasure, discomfort, anger or the like can make you a nervous wreck.

Seeking pleasure only, we can become conflicted and confused. The solutions will seem to exist outside our current situation, rather than as something that can naturally come of experiencing and working with the elements of our own internal experience. Again and again we might react to unpleasurable feelings by seeking temporary, momentary escapes into things that are much more pleasing, as if we can choose our feelings. We can’t. Feelings are out of our control, and thus beyond choice. But as with any environment, we can work with it to make it more beautiful or wholesome. But it must be met on its terms, it cannot be imagined away or chased away by pleasurable sensations.

Pain Avoidance

As mentioned in the section on Fear, feelings can sometimes be seen as sources of great pain. It is the avoidance of such pain that also can lead to an estrangement from the associated feelings. It takes a certain kind of dedication to see through that pain and feel what’s there anyway.

Furthermore, pain itself can be part of your emotional experience, something that needs to be felt acutely and deeply in order to be worked through and released. Sometimes, you have to let pain course through you, send you all of its tattered and crying messages, before it can finally relax. And it’s important we listen to our pains, especially the kinds most severe, since these can help inform us about what isn’t working in life, or guide us towards the strength, passion, or wisdom to find what does work.

Feeling things intensely can truly hurt at times, but you may find that the things you resist due to feeling intimidated by intensity can also be the kinds of things that are most healing to actually feel. Moreover, it can actually be fun! To fully experience pain can sometimes be like riding an intense roller coaster, or even like channeling the energy of a heavy metal concert. Painful heartfelt feelings can sometimes feel like a wet sponge being squeezed tightly, but the release of the water inside can still feel so healing.

Experiencing all feelings, even the most painful ones, can have its place. It is not senseless, it is not a punishment on you somehow. You have to be willing to feel the shadowy parts of life in order to develop a true lightness of being. And the more your capacity for feeling painful things increases, the more resilient you’ll become. You an find yourself capable and ready to feel and experience more than you may have ever thought possible before.

Overthinking

Thinking about feeling is never the same as feeling. The experience of feeling happens without thought. Trying to think your way out of or through feeling can end up just delaying or obstructing the raw experience of feeling. That sense of what is, how it affects you, how you feel. It is part of you, and moves forward as you sense it and come to know and understand it better. You reach understanding, you reach realization, new understanding forms and brighter days come naturally. You don’t have to rely on your mind for everything.

That said, the mind does have its place! You can translate feelings into words as best you can, you can record your sense of what happens in a way that is structured with words and concepts, you can let things happen, then grow your conscious understanding of that happening over time, in a way that supports your life and growth, without holding it back, like some kind of bureaucracy. Your feelings and their interactions, their flow, their conflicts – can move and develop at their own pace, while your mental understanding of such matters can grow with it.

There is a temptation to make everything in life understandable before it’s allowed to happen, and while it’s good to be safe and have a sense of why you’re doing things, on the other hand, some feelings must show themselves and have room to move about first. Some feelings are wild, free, and unpredictable. You can notice the realities of these feelings, and give them a chance at having qualities you can appreciate, rather than conditioning them to fit your expectations. You can learn from them too. Life, its flow, its surprises, even on an internal level, do not have to fit your ideals or expectations – they can be new, and still good. They can present you with an adventure or challenge, and still be most welcome.

Close-mindedness

If our ideas about reality are right all the time, then the new ideas that are presented to us through our feelings might not even be given a chance to be considered. They might be treated as distractions or like a lesser part of our nature. We might think of feelings as “our lizard brain” or “us being stupid” or like they’re from a “stupid” place. But feelings are not as blind or ignorant as we might expect them to be. Those are our ideas about feelings biasing us, rather than a fair judgment of the contents of a feeling itself.

Even the most rampaging, irritable feeling has its place. It can be acting that way to get your attention, knowing no other way it can act to get heard. And if you don’t hear and acknowledge it, that part of your inner world can continue on in pain, or else go into a dismal state, rather than potentially contributing to your overall joy or lightness.

You have to learn to be able to put your ideas about feelings aside, and instead be open to learning about what feelings actually are, or what they have to say. They are a part of you – treat it dearly and you will feel the benefits yourself. Acknowledge that these parts of you travel with you on your journey through life, and that they are out of your control. They are not yours to command, and trying to regulate or dismiss them just makes them feel worse. Would you want to be treated that way? Or would you want people to listen to the things you sincerely hold inside? Considered this way, you may find it easier to open up. To feel. To listen.

Stubbornness

When it comes to what we want, what we believe, or what we want to do, we can be very stubborn, even when a feeling, quiet or loud, wants to point us in a different direction. The thing is, then, our dedication to what we want becomes a detriment, and we end up self-sabotaging while all the while thinking we’re doing the right thing. We can think it’s “good” or what we “have to do”. We fuel ourselves with determination to the point of blindness. And while some feelings do feed off inaction and hesitation, many feelings just want to inform us of different points of view, each of which could enrich the depth and completeness of our choices.

For example, if we’re determined towards comfort and refuse to pay attention to passion, we might live an empty, hollow, or boring life. If we fuel only our sense of adventure and ignore all caution, our adventures could get cut short by consequences from risky decisions, such that we might get injured, sick, debilitated, or killed.

It’s all about balance. Feelings can inform decisions in such a way that those decisions have a sense of balance to them. They’re not too much one thing and not too much another either. There’s just enough of everything, at least according to our own sense of things, on multiple levels.

And as far as things that feed on hesitation, looking at feelings can help with that too. That is, as long as you acknowledge and are aware of them, they can become much less of a threat. You can see what they’re doing and still come to the independent conclusion that action is still the best or healthiest option, whereas staying still and scared can be stifling, and ultimately counter-productive, at least in terms of what you feel would be good.

Conclusions

As you can see, there are quite a few places where we can put up barriers to our own feelings. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t endeavor to become more aware of these barriers as well as to take steps to include working with feelings, honestly and deeply, in our day to day life.

The main steps I’d say are these:

  1. Be open to feeling – you’re not going to get anywhere with your feelings if you close down to them.
  2. Take time to feel – even if you think you have this area of life covered, amidst quiet, free time you may pick up on new feelings you’d never considered. Also, these things have to have an actual place in your life. It’s an ongoing process and journey, that provides emotional nourishment and assistance across every area of your life. Also, sometimes the process of working through certain feelings and learning lessons takes an unanticipated chunk of time. Shortcuts and procrastination are enticing but ultimately can be counter-productive.
  3. Feel deeply – some feelings go deep, reflect on life as a whole, or can touch on patterns that run through the whole of your life. Spend time with even the most deep or painful things, and you can come out of it stronger, wiser, and more informed.
  4. Have courage – sometimes it takes courage to face certain feelings, which may be painful or raw for you. We have to be able to see past our reactions and fears, and be honest about what steps we feel could yield the most positive results for us, and what we would ultimately feel most at peace with. Without that, we can become hemmed in by fear, and refuse to listen or try new approaches to the challenging or mysterious parts of our experience.

That said, good luck with feeling, and hope you enjoyed the article. Take care!
-Oliver

Further Resources

Explore Your Inner World – This is my collection of resources for how to make feeling easier. Basically, a collection of techniques, all having to do with becoming more self-aware and in touch with what is really going on inside of you, such that you can find answers, realizations, understanding, resolution, peace, release, and so on.

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