Once again, as in several previous Musings, I shall borrow from my longtime colleague, Millie Kagan, who wisely counsels clients to “feel, think, act.” I go back a step further and begin with the emotions, those raw visceral reactions to life’s stimuli. We cry, smile, wince, grimace, scream, grin, and even wet our pants as emotional responses to life’s surprises. Feelings are labels we apply to those raw emotions in an attempt to take charge with our minds. Let’s say we round a corner on a busy urban street and come suddenly upon a whimsical street performer. We emote by smiling and then we explain to our companion that street performers make us feel happy. We think about the situation and then act by putting a few dollars in the hat.
I find it helpful to separate these four variables, and consider the order in which they occur. For instance, in times of extreme danger, it may be wise to emote and then act. When the tiger leaps, we had better not indulge in the luxury of naming our feelings and then thinking about our options. In safe and loving relationships, emote, then act can be a delightful experience in spontaneity. I emote by blushing when a friend offers me a compliment and I act by hugging, with no need for labeling my emotions and thinking about my action. Unfortunately, emotion followed by action can also lead to partner abuse and other violence. And committed partners sometimes stay in unhealthy relationships, relying too strongly on feelings and emotions, while leaving out or devaluing their thinking. Then there are times when it’s best to think, then act, leaving emotions and feelings for later. This is a sequence I very much appreciate from my air traffic controller and my surgeon.
Writing on this topic has been frustrating [feeling], evidenced by tightness in my jaw [emotion]. But, I now feel some relief and satisfaction with my product [action], and think that I have done the best I can do. Whew!