6 minutes

Why do I feel what I feel?

This text can be considered a part of a kind of mini-cycle that spontaneously emerged. It encompasses content with a common denominator: the word “why?” There was a text titled “Why do I think the way I think? Why do I do what I do?” There was also “Why do we sometimes panic?” and its complement “Why do we panic (again)?

The immediate impetus for writing this particular “why?” text was a lecture by Professor Karolina Wigura on the role of emotions in social processes and leadership, which I had the pleasure of attending on a Saturday morning. One story in particular struck me: the story of Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and claimed that his entire life was marked by one fundamental emotion: fear. He believed that fear was connected to the circumstances of his birth – according to him, his premature birth was due to rumors of a Spanish armada attack. His mother, upon hearing these rumors, was so frightened that she gave birth to him prematurely. This fear was said to permeate his entire generation, which, in Hobbes’ case, influenced his perception of the world and his creative work.

This story evoked strong emotions in me. It has a personal dimension and also holds significant social truths. As for my personal experiences, overwhelming fear was my constant companion for the majority of my life. Fortunately, it is no longer the case now; it is one of the emotions that accompany me, but no longer one that overwhelms all others. Achieving this state was not easy for me, and one of the main reasons for this was the fact that, for a long time, the issue of emotions remained mainly a concept of the brain for me. The breakthrough came gradually.

The first step, which took place several years ago, was a collision with several situations that couldn’t be explained rationally. This created a rupture in my rational perception of the world. Along with it came an interest in other dimensions of functioning, including the phase of exploring emotions, their role, the understanding that there are no bad emotions, and so on. It also involved the connection between what we feel and what we think. At that time, I thought I already knew everything about emotions, and my brain certainly believed it.

However, a few months ago, there was a painful reality check. It happened during a personal development workshop when one of the trainers, probably tired of my constant “intellectualizing,” irritatedly said, “Andrzej, I’m not interested in what you think, describe to me what you feel.” It was a knockout blow that left me speechless. After all, throughout my life, “what I think” was what interested everyone, what I thought about this or that, what would happen to this or that, etc. My entire identity, career, and functioning in the world were built on “thinking” (including about emotions), and here this person asked me: “what do you feel?”

This blow led me to delve into the issue of experiencing, emotions, and feelings once again. One important aspect of this process was returning to the question: “why do I feel what I feel?” At this stage, a crucial discovery for me, which I found in R. Wereżyński’s book “Returning to Feeling,” was that “thinking emotions” (“thinking fear,” “thinking sadness,” etc.) is entirely different from actually feeling them, that is, locating them in the body rather than in the “brain.”

Why am I writing about all of this? Because, in my opinion, these are incredibly important issues. By remaining solely at the level of reason, we are unable to fully grasp life. We lose very significant aspects of our functioning. Emotions, not rational arguments, often determine whether we can communicate with others or not. That’s why today, when I meet someone, I try to approach the encounter with an awareness of the feelings and emotions accompanying me, especially the difficult ones. From experience, I already know that if I lack a positive attitude internally (due to brewing heavy emotions caused by everyday life situations), it will be difficult for me to be constructive in conversation or in meeting someone else. It will be challenging for me to seek compromises, and with a higher probability, I will want to stand my ground.

Going even further – this is already a much higher level, which I’m just starting to work on – one can be able to sense the emotions of the other party, and even the entire group of people. Of course, not in order to gain an advantage over them, but to better “tune in” – my experience shows that when it’s possible to bridge the emotional gap at the beginning of a meeting, everything becomes much easier.

Regarding the social dimension of Thomas Hobbes’ story, emotions, especially fear, are an inseparable companion of humanity on Earth. The amount of fear within us and how we, as a community, strive to control it has enormous significance for how we function. It is also important from the perspective of the changes the world needs today. This is well reflected in a quote from President F. D. Roosevelt’s inaugural speech in 1933, who, faced with the ongoing crisis at the time, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.”

In conclusion – instead of a punchline – I would like to return to the aforementioned lecture and Thomas Hobbes. According to him, fear arises when we flee from something, show aversion, or create divisions. At the other end of the scale he defined, there is love and the accompanying connection. In this situation, for Hobbes, humanity’s path to salvation lies in the conscious choice of emotions associated with living in peace, those that allow us to coexist without harming each other. Looking at the world around us, this may sound like a “pious wish,” but we won’t find out the truth unless we take even the first step in that direction, which is becoming aware of what we feel and seeking answers to the question: why do I feel what I feel?

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