The Importance of Recovering Our Feeling Nature | Pete Walker, MFT


From The Tao of Fully Feeling: “The individual who is seeking a healthy relationship with his emotional being, will strive to accept the existential fact that the human feeling nature is often contradictory and frequently vacillates between opposite polarities of feeling experiences. It is, in fact, quite normal for feelings to change unpredictably along continuums that stretch between a variety of emotional polarities. As such, it is especially human and healthy to have shifts of mood between such extremes as happy and sad, enthused and depressed, loving and angry, trusting and suspicious, brave and afraid, and forgiving and blaming.

Unfortunately, in this culture only the ‘positive’ polarity of any emotional experience is approved or allowed. This can cause such an avoidance of the ‘negative’ polarity, that at least two different painful conditions result. In the first, the individual injures and exhausts himself in compulsive attempts to avoid some disavowed feeling, and actually winds up more stuck in it, like the archetypal clown whose frantic efforts to free himself from a piece of fly paper leave him more immobilized and entangled. In the second, repression of one end of the emotional continuum often leads to a repression of the whole continuum, and the individual becomes emotionally deadened. The baby of emotional vitality is thrown out with the bathwater of some ‘unacceptable’ feeling. This reluctance to participate in such a fundamental realm of the human experience results in much unnecessary loss. For just as without work there would be no play; without hunger, no satiation; without fear, no courage; without tears, no joy; and without anger, no real love.

Most individuals, who choose or are coerced into only identifying with ‘positive’ feelings, usually wind up in an emotionally lifeless middle ground – bland, deadened, and dissociated in an unemotional ‘no-man’s-land.’ Moreover, when an individual tries to hold onto a preferred feeling for longer than its actual tenure, s/he often appears as unnatural and phony as ersatz grass or plastic flowers. If instead, s/he learns to surrender willingly to the normal human experience that: [feelings] always ebb and flow, s/he will eventually be graced with a growing ability to renew the self in the vital waters of emotional flexibility.

The repression of the so-called negative polarities of emotion causes much unnecessary pain, as well as the loss of many essential aspects of the feeling nature. In fact, much of the plethora of loneliness, alienation, and addictive distraction that plagues modern America is a result of being taught and forced to reject, pathologize or punish so many of our own and others’ normal feeling states. Nowhere, not in the deepest recesses of the self, or in the presence of one’s closest friends, is the average person allowed to have and explore any number of normal emotional states. Anger, depression, envy, sadness, fear, distrust, etc., are all as normal a part of life as bread and flowers and streets; yet they have become ubiquitously avoided and ‘shameful’ human experiences. How tragic this is, for all of these emotions have enormously important and healthy functions in a wholly integrated psyche. One dimension where this is most true is in the arena of healthy self protection. For without access to our dysphoric feelings, we are deprived of the most fundamental part of our ability to notice when something is unfair, abusive, or neglectful in our environments. Those who cannot feel their sadness often do not know when they are being unfairly excluded, and those who cannot feel their normal angry or fearful responses to abuse, are often in danger of putting up with it without protest.

Perhaps never before has humankind been so alienated from so many of its normal feeling states, as it is in the twentieth century. Never before have so many human beings been so emotionally deadened and impoverished. The disease of emotional emaciation is epidemic. Its effects on health are often euphemistically labeled as stress, and like the emotions, stress is often treated like some unwanted waste that must be removed. Until all of the emotions are accepted indiscriminately (and acceptance does not imply license to dump emotions irresponsibly or abusively), there can be no wholeness, no real sense of well being, and no solid sense of self esteem.”

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  1. This is a beautiful study, after my own heartfelt views.

    I would only say that absolutely ANYTHING can be captured and twisted by any bullies. Even the loving saying of Jesus.

    Thus what starts out as a plea here for humans to embrace their full spectrum of feelings, even the “ugly” ones, can become A RULE often meted out by the covertly overly “logical thinkers” that “blames” all the ills of the world on those poor individuals who make a harmless “free choice” NOT to be an emotive person. When that RULE (a rule is always from thinking and not from feeling) comes to town it tells everyone that they MUST feel anger or sadness or fear and IF those townspeople “choose” NOT to then they get tarnished as responsible for making the world “unwelcoming of anger or sadness or fear”, as if it is the FAULT of their own “inner psyche” that “you” cannot express “yourself”. This then allows a million bullies who cannot express “themselves” to BLAME the private “inner psyche” and “free choices” of random individuals, who may not be effusive, for CAUSING the bullies to be uncomfortable in themselves. Such BLAME for CAUSING how a bully unsatisfyingly experiences life IS the ongoing bullying.

    “Its all your FAULT I cannot connect with my fury!!!” says the bully, furiously beating up a reserved unemotional person.

    The word “respect” is used in this article. As if to say “how can you hope to respect someone else’s feeling of anger if you do not respect your own feeling of anger?”. But this notion of A RULE of “respect” about feelings can easily become a bully’s demand that “you” always “HAVE TO” like their expressions of violent rage.

    As a FREE person with abundant “free choices” you do not HAVE TO “respect” anyone or anything.

    If someone else has emotional constipation then that is literally their “tough shit” to sort by themselves.

    No person is responsible for how another person “chooses” to feel. All persons are responsible for outward acts of behaviour that might or might not impact how a person may ultimately feel. Feelings ARE NOT the same thing as BEHAVIOUR. A bad behaviour can oppress you. A person’s inner feeling cannot. A feeling is not solid matter. It cannot inflict any harm. Harm of an outward order only occurs when actions are momentarily decided upon. And decisions require “thinking”. The kind of “thinking” that likes to push RULES on other peoples “feelings”.

    Some FREE persons do NOT want to feel a certain feeling. We all may guess that this might constrain them in life BUT it really is THEIR own “free choice” if they choose not to be wailing or sobbing or yelling or gnashing their teeth or punching pillows or spitting or frothing at the mouth. Emotive choices are wonderful for most but not for all individuals. If “respect” might be useful anywhere it is in this realm of TOLERATING harmless DIFFERENCES.

    The armchair amateur Gods of Psychotherapy are now encouraging all to become neighbourhood “thought police” and now “feelings police”. This intrusion into any person”s private free inner psyche is A REGIME. It is designed to control “personal freedom to “be” who we each choose to be”.

    A person who is NOT free to BE who they choose to be is NOT free to FEEL at all.

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