If you aren’t feeling your feelings, what are you doing?
Imagine you’re walking and suddenly feel a sharp stabbing pain in the sole of your right foot. What do you do? You stop, take the weight off your foot, and check to see what is going on.
Implicit in your investigation is paying attention to the specific location and sensation of pain. The pain helps you work out what is going on.
And while it makes sense that this pain mechanism helps you attend to injury and avoid further harm, on a more basic level it is simply what the human organism naturally does. It’s okay to justify it on evolutionary grounds, but our actual experiential response to the pain is part of our nature, and we will naturally respond this way unless prevented or trained not to.
I make this point because the evolutionary/survival analogy is not as helpful when we move from physical pain and injury to emotional pain and feelings. Nonetheless the analogy is solid: when something hurts us on a feeling level, our natural response is to stop, feel the feeling, take the “weight” off it, and work out what is going on.
I don’t want to offer a consequentialist argument for feeling our feelings, because the real reason we should feel them is that our whole being “wants” to feel them, and would feel them if we weren’t interrupted, conditioned, and coerced into ignoring them instead.
Our bodies and minds continue to try to feel them, continue to bring them to our attention, even when they are no longer relevant to our circumstances and surroundings. It may not be of survival value right now to feel the feelings from a trauma many years ago, but it is something we “want” to do anyway, to complete and put to rest those crises and painful experiences from the past.
And it seems that if we can feel these feelings and let them be resolved, our whole being will feel the relief and gratitude and lightness of letting them go.