Feelings are predictable and easily understood.

That statement may be hard to believe for someone who has learned to deny feelings, suffered rollercoaster tumultuous feelings, or has thought feelings were mysterious and enigmatic. Many things you read or hear about emotions tend to be philosophical or poetic instead of therapeutic and practical, and they may leave you confused or mystified.

Beliefs about Feelings

Until a few hundred years ago, the human body was shrouded in mystery. Even the best scientists had little idea of the function of bodily organs. Our feelings-language developed when medical research on the human body might result in imprisonment or execution. People interpreted their feelings through their superficial knowledge of their bodies. They began to think that fear comes from the gut, because that is where you feel somatic reactions to your fear. Love comes from the heart. Why not -- touching your left upper abdomen feels warm and the rhythmic thump elicits memories of being cared for, possibly even while still in the womb. Being “in your head” is less emotional, because you are farther from the visceral sensations that accompany most feelings.

Feelings Phrases

Phrases like “dealing with your feelings,” “getting in touch with your feelings,” and “stuffing your feelings” are common in treatment programs and therapy situations designed to help addicts recover. We find that many people hear these phrases and acknowledge them because they “sound right,” without understanding what they mean.

“Deal with your feelings” and “get in touch with your feelings” mean to identify and communicate the emotions you are experiencing. “Stuff your feelings” means to block the memory associated with the feeling and to avoid the thoughts and expression of that feeling. There is no organ in the body where feelings are known to be stored — all feelings are here-and-now, although they may be in response to stored memories.

Basic Drives

Feelings or emotions are biochemical messengers that tell us we should consider doing something. They evolved as chemical bodily processes to get our attention. Originally these signals occurred as a suggestion to act on basic drives, such as fight, flight, feed, or flirt. Simple emotions like anger or hunger were directly linked to behavior that enhanced survival of the species.

A helpful model for understanding feeling is the triune brain, (Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, 1977). The human brain evolved over millions of years.


The oldest part is the R-complex, which is about all the brain a reptile has. This complex supports the basic drives for survival: fight, flight, flirt, and feed. This pretty well covers an alligator’s needs.

Limbic System

Later, when we became mammals (milk drinkers), the mother had to care for her babies or they would die. This limbic system is the seat of our higher-level emotions and feelings.


Most recently, we developed a large neocortex, which is used to think, reason, and organize thoughts into ideas or models and language.

This helps explain why you may hate someone (R-complex), yet care for them (limbic system), and intellectually believe both feelings are unreasonable (neocortex).

Feelings & Behavior

The problem is that our civilization and technology have advanced more rapidly than our bodily chemistry, and it is no longer always necessary or even advantageous to link our feelings with a behavior. Sometimes we need to behave contrary to our feelings. For example, if you feel angry with your boss, it is certainly not appropriate to hit her or him, and it may not even be wise to express your anger at that time.

Emotional Health

What does it mean to be emotionally healthy? Human beings are born with a natural capacity for spontaneity, the ability to have and express a wide range of feelings in response to events occurring in life.

Most children, if nurtured properly, have no difficulty with this skill. Watch a small child, before it has been taught that once you have a feeling, you ought to hang on to it for a long time. Children naturally laugh when happy, cry when sad or hurt, and are angry when frustrated, sometimes all within a few minutes. These feelings do not last long if no one interferes.

Family History

In many families, however, this natural expression may be stifled by authority figures. A child learns that the expression of all or certain feelings may incur disapproval. The child learns to substitute another feeling for the natural one. Each family may have certain feelings that are discounted or prohibited, while others are encouraged or rewarded. For example, you may have gotten the message that anger was not allowed in your family, but it was fine to be sad. Or you might have been taught that anger was OK but you should not show any signs of weakness. These messages may be direct, or your parents or others may have modeled them for you.

Setup for Addiction

As you matured you may then have used a lot of energy to avoid the expression of the natural feeling. When you continue this behavior for many years, you may feel as if you have a knot in your stomach. This is a perfect scenario to set youup for the relief that some kind of mood-altering drug or behavior will provide. It is not surprising that many addicts use feelings as an excuse to drink, use, gamble, spend, binge, purge, or starve.

Link with Addiction

Addiction takes all kinds of feelings and uses them as excuses for addictive behavior. It gets much mileage out of confusion over feelings. We hear people saying, “I used to drink over that,” or “It’s what’s eating you rather than what you’re eating,” and we suspect they are buying into the addiction’s excuse system.

The human body can produce real, honest-to-goodness pain to get drugs. We see this often in drug addicts who have chronic pain. If the body can produce pain to get drugs, why not other feelings to use as an excuse for addictive behavior?


A compulsion is an obsession that produces impulses to do something, like binge. If you do not act on that impulse you will feel anxiety. This is, of course, part of the emotional aspect of the disease. But if you do act on the impulse, you will feel guilt or other emotions. The addiction says, “Since you are craving it, you have to drink, use, eat, or do it.” Recovery simply answers, “Whatever happens, you do not have to binge. Your choice is either to talk about that craving and get some relief, or to ‘grin and bear it,’ and let it pass. Either way, your Higher Power can help you through it if you will let Him/Her/It.” '

No Direct Link

The addict tries to create a direct link between the impulse and the binge. There is no such direct link. You can insert your better judgment (augmented by your recovery) and your Higher Power between the compulsion and the binge.


AA has recommended for years that you do not get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or tired. This is a simple acknowledgment of the power of feelings to work for or against your recovery.

Ideas for Recovery

Here are some simple ideas for emotional health. Remember the triune brain when considering these ideas.

  • Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are.
  • Specific feelings are natural to certain perceptions.
  • You need not be controlled by your feelings.
  • Communicate feelings for healthy relationships.

Not right or wrong A feeling is a natural biochemical response to an event, a thought, a memory, or even other bodily processes. Feelings are not right or wrong, good or bad. Of course, there are feelings that we perceive as pleasurable and others as uncomfortable. If someone discounted or disapproved of your feelings, you probably placed a value judgment on that feeling.

Feelings & perceptions For every perception, whether of an external event, a memory, or biochemical changes within your body, there are specific emotions that are triggered. If you remember a time when you were hurt, you will probably feel the same kind of hurt that you experienced at the time, although perhaps not as intensely. If that perception is strong enough, your body may also release adrenaline or other neurotransmitters that prepare your body for flight or fight. So you experience anger in the here-and-now in response to an old memory.

Also, if your hormones are out of balance through PMS or pregnancy, you may experience feelings that seem to have no cause. If you look around, you can always find something going on in your present world that could have triggered that feeling, so then your perceptions begin to strengthen the feelings, and you become convinced that your feelings, even happy feelings, are caused by somebody or something in your present life.

The point is that your feelings may or may not be related to something that is going on right now, but they are always related to your perception of your entire world, past, present, and your expectations of the future. It may help to identify the target or targets of your feelings, with the understanding that it is easy to misdirect those emotions, and to over -- or underrate the significance of them. In any case, they will change soon if you don’t invest energy into hanging on to them.

Feelings need not control you Resentment is a feeling (the re-feeling of an anger associated with a hurt or loss) that can consume a person and make life miserable. Other negative feelings, like fear, guilt, or self-pity, can do the same. Your feelings are associated with your thoughts and perceptions, and it is possible to replace negative thoughts or perceptions with positive ones.

Addiction thrives on negative feelings, and many addicts think that they drink, use, binge, purge, or starve because of them. This is usually an excuse, because you can have negative feelings and not act on them if you have a Higher Power. It is, however, reasonable to say that your recovery will not provide much joy or serenity if negative feelings predominate.

So what can you do? Change your thinking and perceptions! You do not need to deny your feelings, but when you are suffering feelings related to negative thoughts, ask yourself, “Will this kind of thinking be worthwhile to me or to anyone else? Is this thinking inspiring, encouraging, or beneficial to anyone?” How else could you perceive the same situation? Is the glass half empty or half full? You can use affirmations, inspirational readings, and gratitude lists to help you.

To dwell in guilt about the past or fear about the future will prevent you from appreciating the gifts recovery has to offer you today. Today you have a choice.

Communicate feelings Being aware of what you are feeling helps you to live spontaneously. This awareness also allows you to examine your thoughts and perceptions and to change them if necessary. At times you may need to experience your hurt, anger, or sadness so you can move on to the positive feelings of life, like gratitude, love, hope, and joy. Once you have learned to be aware of what you are feeling, you can tell this to someone else and enhance relationships and intimacy.

You might have picked up the idea that when someone loves you, that person should be able to guess what is going on with you and what you need. This idea will almost guarantee that you will be unsatisfied with the important relationships in your life. If you take the risk to share what you think and feel, you will alleviate the loneliness and isolation of active addiction.

If you share an uncomfortable feeling, it may not go away, but it will lose its power to control you. It will tend to become less intense each time you talk about the event or circumstance that may be associated with the feeling. You might communicate it at a meeting, with friends, or with family members. Communication of feelings is essential to the honesty and openness required for an intimate relationship.

Feelings, see also: Abuse, Anger, Body image, Craving, Defenses, Emotional aspects, Emotions Anonymous, Energy levels, Excitement, Fear, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt & shame, Habit & structure, Humor & fun, Hunger & appetite, Incest, Intimacy, Love & caring, Obsession, Panic attacks, Premenstrual syndrome, Pregnancy, Relaxation, Serenity, Stress & strain, Tranquilizers, Trust.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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