Eight Ways Our Feelings Help Us Grow
Rabbi Dov Heller, LMFT
Feelings are information. In order to grow, it is essential to listen and learn from them. Here are eight ways that feelings help us actualize our vast potential.
- Growing in self-care
Identifying and meeting our unique emotional needs
Jon’s friends are major party animals. He enjoys hanging out with them because they add an element of excitement to his life. But occasionally, being surrounded by lots of people drains his energy, and he needs to be alone. When his friends put pressure on him to join the party, he feels confused. He asks himself, “Am I anti-social?”
After struggling with his feelings for a while, Jon decides to listen to them. He realizes that he is not anti-social, just a bit of an introvert. He simply needs more alone time to recharge his batteries. He has recently learned to pass on certain outings and feels much better about himself and his social life.
- Growing in intimacy
Deepening the heart-to-heart connection through being vulnerable
Michelle’s boyfriend is a very hard-driving guy who wants to build his own online business. Michelle has a more balanced approach to life. Recently, Mark has been making critical comments about Michelle’s lack of ambition. She feels judged and hurt by his comments.
When they have some quiet time, she talks to him about how she was feeling. After hearing her out, he realizes how much he really respects her and how much he cares about her. He thanks her for being open and honest with him about her feelings. After some reflection, he grasps that his criticalness came from his own insecurities. He resolves to get some guidance. As a result of Michelle’s communication, the depth of their relationship grows tremendously.
- Knowing yourself
Identifying and owning all that’s truly and uniquely mine
Amy thought she was doing well at her law firm until they had a professional development seminar led by a psychologist who specialized in group facilitation skills. Amy was fascinated by this presentation and even felt a bit jealous of the psychologist’s ability to impact the firm’s lawyers. Amy was distressed but didn’t know why.
After Amy talked with a friend about her feelings, she realized that social dynamics was much more exciting and attractive to her than the law profession. She discovered a part of herself that she had pushed away since she was in college, when she had enjoyed psychology courses. Because her family put so much pressure on her to become a lawyer, she’d never previously owned this part of her. Now, new career possibilities opened up for her.
- Finding your life purpose
Identifying and making one’s unique contribution to the world.
Jacob was one of the best Talmud students in the yeshiva. He studied day and night and developed a reputation as someone who was not only hard-working but really knew his stuff. His rabbis told him that if continued on this path, he could be a great teacher and perhaps reach the status of becoming a rosh yeshiva.
Although Jacob enjoyed his studies, he also derived great pleasure from reading secular philosophy. He tried to ignore this feeling because it meant leaving the yeshiva to study in a university, something that was not strongly supported in his yeshiva.
Eventually, he could no longer ignore his interest in philosophy. He made a courageous decision to enroll in university. After receiving his PhD in philosophy—while continuing his Talmud study—he found a way to integrate both of these disciplines by writing books on difficult topics of Jewish philosophy that appealed to both secular and religious Jews alike. Jacob felt a deep sense of satisfaction in this work knowing he was fulfilling his unique potential and life purpose.
- Growing spiritually
Courageously seeking the truth wherever it may lead
One of Sara’s best friends was diagnosed with a serious illness. For the first time, Sara challenged how she really felt about G-d. While she grew up believing in Him, now she was swamped by a barrage of feelings and questions. She was angry at G-d—then felt guilty for feeling angry. She felt shame that she was not a good Jew and was slipping spiritually.
Confusion became a constant emotion as her journey continued. Part of Sara just wanted to go back to when she felt comfortable. But she realized she could never return to her old spirituality. She needed to confront each of these feelings and questions and work them through. There was no turning back. Over time, she gained a new level of clarity. As her understanding increased, so did her inner peace.
- Building character
Human greatness is measured by greatness of character
As marketing director of a large clothing company, Norm had little patience for colleagues who were careless and lazy. But one yearly review changed all this when he was told that people were afraid of him; they didn’t like working for him! He had to either become a more patient person or find another job.
Norm decided he really liked this job and took on the challenge of becoming more patient. He realized that impatience is really about anger. Why was he so angry all the time? As he explored his anger, he realized some very upsetting things about himself and his relationship with an older brother who had always bullied him. Eventually, Norm reached out for some professional help. Over time, as Norm understood the meaning of his anger, he become less reactive and more patient.
- Making good decisions
The quality of a person’s life is measured by the sum total of one’s decisions.
Natasha was constantly anxious in her relationship with Ralph. She always walked on eggshells around him, never feeling she could be herself. She constantly monitored what she said and how she said it. On the other hand, Ralph had so much she was looking for in a man. He was dependable, smart, friendly, and generous. They were also on the same page in terms of values and priorities, and he was very interested in getting married.
Natasha felt uneasy about getting engaged. She needed to understand her anxiety and why she felt so unsafe with Ralph. She decided to talk it out with a friend. The friend helped Natasha see that she was in a potentially abusive relationship. She decided to confront Ralph with her concerns. Much to her surprise, he was receptive and agreed to get some professional help. After six months, she was feeling more relaxed, at peace, and decided she could go forward and get engaged.
- Building self-esteem and core emotional strength
When we embrace reality, no matter how painful, we become stronger and feel more alive.
Sammy was generally an aloof person. He preferred being alone, but often felt isolated. He avoided talking about certain topics with friends because he felt uninformed and not as smart as others. He often felt shame about his intelligence and as a result lacked confidence. This directly impacted his career path. Feeling insecure, he chose to stay where it felt safe rather than making moves which would advance him professionally.
There was conflict between the part of Sammy which wanted to grow and the part of him which was full of shame. This conflict drained him of his emotional strength. Thankfully, a good friend finally convinced him to take responsibility for his insecurities and get to the root of them. After several months of counseling, Sammy was feeling stronger, more alive, more confident, and less conflicted.
Emotional honesty allows us to become our best selves. As you can see by these examples, our feelings truly are our friends and our teachers. When we listen to them, explore them, and understand them, a new world of possibility opens up for us.