Making space to both think and feel

Sometimes we’re so full of thought that we forget to feel. And sometimes it’s the opposite.

Somewhere in the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgård’s autobiography My Struggle he writes about being so full of thought that there wasn’t space in him to feel. As someone who used to consider himself a “rational” person and who, erroneously, believed that to be a good thing, this immediately struck a chord within me. I’ve since come to learn how mistaken I was but despite this, I still struggle to quiet the chatter in my head and make space in me to just feel.

We are taught from an early age that being emotional is bad. “Don’t be so emotional?” or if you’re a man that emotions are for girls. Instead, “being rational” is lifted up as the highest goal and the answer to any struggle. As if life was a series of puzzles with answers that can be solved if we just think hard enough. This barrage on our emotions isn’t just dangerous, it’s also robbing us of our most important source of information and of what makes each of us unique. It’s an illusion that we can be fully rational, our feelings influence our decisions whether we admit it or not. Better to acknowledge this fact so we can take it into consideration as we make our decisions. Wouldn’t that be the more rational thing to do?

To be sure, too much feeling also has its downsides. If we’re to full of our emotions we can easily lose connection with ourselves and others. We forget to put things in perspective and to apply the strategies we’ve developed to support us when we need them the most. When was the last time that you felt in a slump and too tired and down to do anything about it? I’m not saying that you should just be happy. That doesn’t work. What I am saying is that we often know what we need in these situations, but we just need a little time, a little nudge and support to get there.

On either end of the span we lose connection with ourselves. Too much thinking and we lose the input that our feelings provide on what we actually feel about what’s going on in and around us and whether we’re acting in accordance with our values. Too much feeling and we lose the sense of perspective and sight of our developed coping strategies. I doubt that it’s possible to reach (and stay at) a perfect balance between the two, at least I have no clue how it’s achieved. Instead, what’s important is awareness. Awareness over yourself and towards which side of this range you normally drift. By knowing this and recognizing the signs you need to look out for indicating when you’re going too far in one direction, you can make the adjustments you need in your life to make space to both think and feel.

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