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Feelings Go Deeper than Language

Words have limitations when you're dealing with feelings. 

Feelings are hard to describe in language

In psychotherapy, we try to use language to deal with feelings and experiences. And there is a problem built into that enterprise: The feelings and experiences that we are trying to talk about reside in a realm that is not illuminated by language.


When you feel something, your feeling is absolutely real. And, down there in the realm where you experience that feeling, language doesn’t work very well. So, when I ask someone to “Tell me how you feel about that,” I’m asking an impossible question.


Describing your feeling with language is like trying to describe a color, or a piece of music, with words. Anything you say is going to be incomplete, or inaccurate, or is going to look different in a few minutes. The language we use is never completely satisfactory. And there’s a reason for that.


Feelings are more complex than language

The experiences that fill our lives with meaning, and the feelings that run us when we’re not looking, are huge collections of moment-by-moment awareness, present and past. Those huge networks of instants are simply too big and complex for our conscious thought and language to grasp directly. Emotional experiences are more complex than language.


We use language to select details from those networks of experience so we can think and talk about them. Language works well to simplify the complexity, so we can talk to each other, but its limitation is that it doesn’t capture the whole of the experience. It’s like a road map that only shows the freeways. It’s useful for a lot of things, but it doesn’t show you where you live.


That’s why you can be aware of your experience of a feeling without being able to readily assign language to it. You can feel it, be aware of its presence and existence, be aware that you feel something, and still not have words for it. We say “It’s hard to talk about,” or “I just don’t have words for it.”


So how can we work with formless, languageless feelings? I feel anger. I feel sadness. I feel joy. How can we grasp the mystery and heal it? The bad news is that the cognitive tools we are most familiar with, words and language, can point the way to vague shapes in the darkness of the experiential realm, but language is not available in the place that it points to.


Approaches deeper than language are available

The good news is that other tools are available. It is possible to do healing work directly in the realm of experience. You can touch that deep place where you actually hold the experience that you live. There is no language down there. There is only the experience, rich with texture and feeling. That space belongs to you, and you have always made use of it in one way or another, but without conscious intent. You can learn to enter that space with direct awareness. That access is the deep work.


In deep work, we can consciously reach down into those places where experience lives, the places where the experience is real and time is only a metaphor. It is possible to explore those spaces gently, safely, and that exploration can bring healing. When you learn to do that, it becomes a life skill.


If you’ve struggled with language to deal with emotional discomfort and the discomfort is still just out of reach, the deeper work may give you the access you’re looking for. At Depthworks, we can help you do deep work if that is appropriate. If this sounds interesting to you, give me a call.

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