Monday, June 18, 2012

You Shouldn’t Feel That Way….The Fifth Level of Intimacy, Feelings (Part 1)

“The fifth level of intimacy is about getting comfortable with our own feelings and learning to express them to the people we love. The fifth level of feelings is also very much about learning to listen to others, but it is also about learning to listen to ourselves.” This excerpt from Matthew Kelly’s book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy implies that in order for this level to have a positive impact on your relationships, feelings need to be expressed well and listened to well.

Feelings aren’t good or bad, they just are. You can’t control what feeling pops up in reaction to any given situation. Your feeling reactions are imprinted early in your life, some research would suggest even before birth, and therefore there is no learning to stop during a situation and ask yourself, “Hmmm, I guess I need to choose which feeling I am going have in response to this event.”

The real questions around our feelings involve figuring out how we feel, how to effectively convey those feelings, and how to manage our behavioral expression of those feelings. Easily listed, not so easily done. Feeling angry is okay, screaming in someone’s face at point blank range is not. When emotions are expressed well others can know us at a much deeper level and we can feel understood – maybe even get a need met! In the church setting, we may not reveal as much as we would with an intimate partner, but we can reveal enough in an effective manner to be heard as someone with valid input to a conversation rather than a bully, a blow hard, a cry baby, a whiner, or a stubborn mule.

Sharing our feelings creates a much more tender level of vulnerability. It’s like showing someone an open would and trusting that they won’t pour salt in. That level of trust comes only from taking the risk on smaller, less important issues so that we can open up on bigger, more important issues later in the relationship. So what’s the payback for taking such a risk? Deeper, more meaningful relationships. What’s so important about meaningful relationships? They benefit our individual mental health and when a group can operate successfully at this level it can grow, nurture, and benefit an entire community.

The key to expressing feelings in a way that deepens intimacy is non-judgmental acceptance. Can you hear what someone else feels and accept it for what it is? Can you respond to their feelings with empathy? After someone has shared how they feel, statements like, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” “That just makes no sense at all,” or “No one else would ever feel that way” are judgments and intimacy killers. You have just told someone that there’s something wrong with him because of how he feels – something over which he has no control. Along with judgment, criticism and rejection are feared experiences that may result from being open and honest about one’s feelings.

What else gets in the way at this level? An inability to name our feelings can bring this process to a screeching halt. Difficulty listening to the feelings of others will also put a quick end to this process. Part 2 of this blog will address naming your own feelings and listening to the feelings of others. Part 3 will address obstacles to listening. Stay tuned!

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