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  • Writer's pictureJosh Killam, LPC

Feelings Can Act as a Map for Life

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Feelings are a kind of map. A map that you can use to identify what you need so you can navigate your world and relationships. If you can understand your emotions efficiently, then you can navigate your world accordingly. Of course, the first step is identifying the feelings, which you can read more about here. Once you know what feelings seek attention, you can begin to care for those feelings by identifying your needs. We all possess needs and desires that come from various parts of yourself. Some arise from the present moment, from relationships, or even childhood. Needs are not necessarily endless, but we have many of them, and they can often guide us through life (consciously or unconsciously). We are aiming for more of a conscious need. If we are not driven by conscious need, we are often guided by impulse (unconscious need). A strong foundation with your body is crucial in moving your needs into conscious awareness. A strong relationship helps you listen and interpret your feelings as effectively as you can.

When navigating your story, it will be essential to have a strong relationship with your internal emotions. You can establish this in several ways, and no one way is necessarily better than the other (mediation, journaling, psychotherapy). Pick what works for you. The commonality among these techniques is they help you put your story into a coherent narrative. Another way of saying this is they help you make sense of who you are and why you are the way you are. Your story enables you to understand your emotional reactiveness (triggers), likes, dislikes, short tempers, needs, etc. Understanding all of you gives you direction. This is the map idea. When you can understand yourself, you are provided with a map of how to act in the world. I think that is what a lot of us are looking for. “What do I do? When do I do? How do I do?” Your story can answer all of these questions for you. The key is to learn how to listen and understand.

Feelings are manifested for a purpose. They have a goal in mind, so to speak. When they show up, they show up with intent. If they are impulsive, we lack the awareness to understand. If they are intentional, we can follow their lead to identify a need, leading to action. The signal can be positive emotion such as joy or elation associated with an ideal first date. One way you might interpret this feeling is “I could go on another date with this person” and hope to obtain a similar experience. In this way, feelings can be a guide. They motivate us to act in specific directions.

An example comes to mind of a struggling client who was adamantly opposed to hiring a nanny for her children. Even though there was an obvious need for a nanny. When I asked her what was getting in the way, her initial feeling was fear. She reported that she was too afraid to let someone else watch her children. Recognizing that this is a reasonable fear, I invited her to question this fear with the hope of understanding the feeling more deeply. After some discussion, we discovered that her fear was not associated with her children. The fear was directed towards her husband. She was afraid that if she had a nanny to watch the children, there would be unreasonable demands from her husband to “always be working or doing something productive.” This would be counterproductive because the purpose of a nanny would be to provide my client with free time. Her emotional impulse was to place the origin of her fear on her husband. Which then displaced responsibility from her to her husband. Allowing her to stay hidden from her truth. I suggested that we use this fear as a guide and gently urged her to discuss this belief with her husband. In short, it turns out that the husband had no such demands although understanding of the fear. This provided us with an invitation to continue exploring her emotional impulses to find what she needed but could not see.

At our next session, I asked my client where this fear might have come from, given that it had not originated from her husband. After more digging, i.e., questioning, sitting with feelings, talking, journaling, we uncovered that her fear belonged to another need elsewhere. The core fear was that if she hired a nanny, she would be faced with the opportunity to further her career, and this prospect terrified her. Eureka! At last, she was able to get to the bottom of the feeling. The feeling in her stomach and chest, the twisting tightness that arose when she discussed this fear, simply faded away when she uncovered its true nature. What was left were her core feelings around feeling worthy and deserving of attention. All of which provided her with a map/direction to act. My client now had a meaningful aim for herself and began working toward her genuine need to improve her career. By recognizing and attending to the appropriate need, she could integrate it into her conscious awareness and then act on caring for herself. Which lead to her experiencing feelings of purpose, joy, peace, and acceptance.

Your feelings are guides; they are your map. We have to work through all of the junk first. This is why sitting quietly, calmly, and feeling safe within yourself is so essential. There is so much clutter to sift through. If my client and I had stopped with simply a fear of unreasonable expectations from her husband, we would have moved into “problem-solving “and “compromising.” Both of which, have tremendous value when it is a genuine need. But for my client, her need was more profound.

The answers that you are looking for lie within you. Your needs live within your emotions and feelings. When we learn to listen effectively, we can then map out a direction for yourself that feels appropriate and meaningful. Slowly over time, you will begin to integrate more of yourself, and these experiences become second nature rather than a drawn-out excavation.

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