How do you feel? All too often, this is a loaded question. For the most part, people don’t answer it directly.
How do I feel? This tends to be complicated, mixed, and as hard as it is for me to understand, you’ll not get it at all. Then I’ll have to justify myself, explain myself, and that could degenerate into a whole conversation I’d rather not have.
Is that familiar? People ask the question out of courtesy or expectation, but overall they don’t actually want the answer, do they?
No, in my experience people don’t truly want to know how anyone feels. Thus, people tend to keep this to themselves.
However, that won’t last. Inevitably it will come out, and if you have held to yourself a long time, the outpouring of emotion can be off-putting. And not just to the people who receive it, but to you, too.
This is why it’s important to acknowledge that it’s ok for you to feel how you feel. Why? For this reason:
You are the only one inside your head
There is nobody but you inside your head. Period. You are, as such, the only one in there who can think and feel as you do, and act in whatever ways you choose to act…or not.
This is why mindfulness can be so powerful and empowering. Because it makes you aware of what’s in your head, thoughts and feelings-wise. When you have that awareness you can better answer the awkward question.
This is not just about answering the question when a friend, lover, or even total stranger asks how you are feeling. No, this is also about knowing that for yourself.
Feelings are so complicated. Sure, we give them simple names and understand the idea of what each of them are supposed to be. But that’s seldom, if ever, the truth of what they are.
Feelings tend to be mixed, complicated, a hodgepodge of different emotions all rolled into something you should be able to name, but probably often cannot.
Depression is a perfect example here. For starters, how I feel depression may differ considerably from how you feel it. But in my experience, it tends to be a mix of anger, sadness, hopelessness, rage, terror, and various other negatives depending on circumstances, timing, and other factors.
Then, just to make it even more complex, it will shift and feel totally different from one time to another. Today, depression may be mostly hopelessness. Tomorrow, though, it could feel mostly like anger.
The names we have for feelings do not properly describe them individually. Then, when you are feeling a feeling, it’s seldom singular.
What you feel versus how you feel
Let’s say I am feeling angry today. That’s the what. How am I feeling angry? There is a tightness in my chest, which feels as if it could burst out and attack someone in physical form. It feels as though I could growl convincingly. My fists are clenched, and it feels as if the slightest next awful thing I encounter will cause me to shout, flip some tables, and possibly do other damage.
That’s how my anger feels this time. But maybe another time when I felt angry I was super, super calm. Cold. Detached. No sense of physically lashing out, but the words I would employ, in the deepest voice I can muster, would cut you more than the sharpest blade I can get my hands on. My anger was cold as ice, rather than hot as flame.
That’s just me. That’s just two possible modes in which I feel anger. What am I feeling? Anger. How am I feeling? That’s a lot more complicated and variable.
There are over 7 billion people on this planet. Every single one of them thinks and feels. The names we use may be the same and the “what” of a given emotion may be identified similarly. But the “how” of the emotion is incredibly, infinitely variable and unique to everyone, every time it is felt.
Positive or negative, the what and how of your emotions will make you feel how you feel, and likely cannot be easily explained. They can and will change with every iteration and reiteration.
How does that make you feel?
How you feel — within and without
The problem with the question “How do you feel?” is in explaining it to another. I know how I feel, or at least I have a sense of how I am feeling. But can I really explain it to you?
What’s more, do you really, truly want to know the answer in all its depth and complexity?
Let’s just presume you don’t. And that’s perfectly ok. I am the only person inside my head, you are the only person inside your head. I can only understand you through my perception of Life, the Universe, and Everything…and vice versa.
Trouble is, a lot of people want you to sympathize with how they feel. Not empathize, sympathize.
What’s the difference? Empathy is the what, sympathy is the how. Empathy is understanding what another feels, even in the most general terms. Sympathy, however, is a request to not just understand, but share in the feeling. That, in turn, becomes a slippery slope.
How do I mean that? Take President Trump and his “woes.” He lies, he cheats, he steals, and yet he’s being picked on for it. They won’t just let him get away with it, they point it out and have impeached him for it…but he’s a victim and wants you to feel his pain and be sympathetic to his plight. (Yes, this is quite tongue-in-cheek on my part, and I expect you can feel the sarcasm).
The point is, sympathy is sharing, and that can cloud how you yourself feel. Taking on the feelings of another, when you are working on feeling for yourself, just muddies matters on a lot of different levels.
Understanding is more than sufficient here, and recognizing the “what” versus the “how.” But in our society, we tend to desire and even demand sympathy over empathy.
Mindfulness helps in understanding
When you practice mindfulness, you are practicing awareness, specifically of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The only person you can think, feel, and act for is you. When you practice mindfulness you gain more insight and understanding into what this means. You can better see your thoughts and feelings, as well as control the intent of your actions.
The question, How are you feeling? is a loaded question. But when you are mindful you can better recognize the truth of how you are feeling. With that recognition, you can better respond.
I’m sure you don’t desire to give your life story, or a full-recounting of precisely all the feelings you are having when asked this question. But maybe you can either answer honestly or ask your own question to redirect the conversation and avoid answering.
Why do that? Because nobody truly desires the answer to this question. And, frankly, do you really need to know? To be sure, there are times that you do. But more often than not, it’s just a part of the conversation that creates unnecessary tension for everyone involved.
It is okay to feel how you feel, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
You are worthy and deserving of using your mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done you and I matter, no matter what we are feeling.