Monthly Archives: November 2015

Balance of Reason and Emotion

As I’ve practiced to be a counselor, and worked with my own stuff too, it’s become more and more clear to me that I need to honor my feelings as well as my reason. Ongoing research indicates this is true for all humans: it seems our brain really does have different parts that handle reason and emotion (and lots of other things too). And the research says we function better when integrated.Head and Heart direction signs
People who practice a religion or hold beliefs about unverifiable phenomena are usually labelled by those with a scientific or skeptical mindset as letting their emotions run their lives.
People who hold to atheist or agnostic views, or who value scientific approach above all else, are often labelled as dismissing emotions and cleaving only to reason.
I think there’s truth to both assertions. I also know that my experience as a therapist and modern research support the idea that neither letting your emotions rule your perceptions most of the time nor letting your reason quash your emotions most of the time leads to a fully human experience of life.
Somewhere in the middle there’s a balance. For example, in my experience, I can analyze the crap out of a choice and usually get into an unending loop and reanalysis. Analysis is fine for getting to understand a decision — but I’ve found the only way I can stop the analysis loop and end with a result that I don’t continually doubt is by paying attention to what I feel about the different elements my rational mind teases out. Not to mention the gut feeling that arises from my cumulative nonconscious wisdom. These are only two reasons to pay attention to my feelings: there’s also enjoyment of the moment, savoring memories, and so many other things that only glow in the light of emotion.
It’s hard to find a balance. It brings up lots of stuff — like defending myself against crazy emotions that seem to want to impose on me — or defending myself against the pain of a loss or a fear that’s getting in the way of doing things that will make my life better. I have found that the work is worth doing because the better I get at working through my stuff, the more balanced is my life.
And the more I enjoy it.

Self-compassion and Self-confidence

Be kind to yourself

Be kind to yourself

Do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake? Feel horrible when you’ve asserted yourself?

The truth I’ve learned is that I am often a lot harder on myself than I really deserve. In some cases, I might not have made any mistakes, just taken a risk–like speaking up in class–that is outside my normal comfort zone. In other cases, I might believe I have imposed on or hurt someone’s feelings, but end up feeling bad to a degree out of proportion with what actually happened. While shame and guilt are useful for guiding us, when they take control of our lives they tend to impair our ability to live better.

For a long time, the accepted way of counteracting excessive feelings of shame or inadequacy has been self-esteem building affirmations and exercises. Recently, however, research on self-compassion mediation is showing that forgiving ourselves and sending goodwill towards ourselves is actually more effective than self-esteem building. This takes practice, like so many meditative and mindful activities, so I recommend guided audio such as those created by Rick Hanson.

Here’s a short test on how self-compassionate you are.

And here’s an article by one of the primary researchers in the field.

Be brave. Be safe. Be seen.

– Alan