What is the trouble with trying to understand why we feel how we feel?

By Ann Weiser Cornell on March 30, 2017 in Blog, Tips

Focusing Tip #553

“I have a lot of beliefs that if I understand why I feel something, that the understanding will bring relief.”

Michelle writes:

I’m wondering if you can talk about “turning toward” and “being with” the different somethings in us. It seems to me that I have often confused “understanding” with “being with.” I have a lot of beliefs that if I “understand” why a person does or says something, or perhaps understand why I feel something, that the understanding will bring relief to troubled areas. Can you comment on this?

Dear Michelle:

There’s nothing wrong with understanding! I’m a big fan of it myself.

The difficulty comes when we try to understand too early, when the effort to understand “why” gets in the way of true empathic contact.

To illustrate the difference, let me give an analogy.

Imagine that you arrive in the kitchen and you discover that your teenager has made a batch of cookies using the best cut glass bowl, and has broken it.

If your first response is “Why did you use that bowl?”, what do you imagine will happen? Probably tears, meltdown, defensiveness. This is because “why” questions are very likely to be perceived as criticism.

But if you make empathic contact first, something more forward-moving can happen. “Sweetie, you made cookies! And you wanted to use that bowl, huh?”

If relationship comes first, everything else will follow… including understanding.

Or to put it another way, the best route to understanding is not to try to understand… but to try to be in contact.

And the same is true in the inner world, with the felt sense you are aware of… just sense it, describe it, be with it… let it know you are with it… and so much will emerge from there. Not only understanding, but also the next steps of life living forward freshly, new possibilities that weren’t in awareness before.

Compared to that, understanding alone seems like not much, doesn’t it?

About the Author

Ann Weiser CornellView all posts by Ann Weiser Cornell


Add comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Our Newest Offering: Focusing in Daily Life

Join Ann Weiser Cornell for her brief, budget-friendly seminars for ways to help when you feel overtaken by anxiety, anger, or frustration when communicating with someone whose feelings run counter to your own.

Reaching Across Differences. Sign up here by June 28th.