Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

We have no emotion that’s not useful in some way. Everything is there for a purpose, even an emotion that undermines its purpose.

I’m talking about shame. Its purpose seems to be to help us fit in with others. Shame, and its milder version, embarrassment, comes up when you violate a social norm which might get you expelled from the group or, at least lower your status. Continue reading


Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

Your feelings tell you about the state of your body. If you’re putting on a roof, carrying shingles up a ladder, swinging a hammer until your hand falls off, sweating it out at a hundred and ten degrees, your body will have a lot to say. You may not want to listen to it. You’ve got to cover the roof before the rainstorm comes; but, your body is trying to tell you something. It would be in your interest to listen sometimes.

The feeling of pain is the way the body speaks to you when it wants to say, cut it out, you’re exceeding limitations. When you swing a hammer until your hand is ready to fall off, tendonitis is developing. That’s why the old guy on your job, who used to swing a hammer all day, can’t anymore. He ruined his hands swinging that hammer, so now all he can do is talk to customers, write up estimates, and yell at you that you’re doing it wrong. He’d like to be on the roof and show you how to do it, but he didn’t listen to his body when it told him to stop.

I’m not saying you’ve got to do everything your body says, the instant it says it. Sometimes you have to talk back to your body and say, I hear you, but we’ve got to keep doing this. For instance, when you’ve been lifting weights, your muscles get sore. That’s because you tear up some muscle fibers lifting those weights, so the muscles will come back stronger. When you lift weights, you’ve got to be the boss of your body and push yourself a little further each set; but, you also have to listen to your body, so you can tell the difference between normal soreness and when a muscle is pulled. It does no good to push through a pulled muscle. It may set you back days or weeks, making you worse off than if you never lifted those weights at all. The ability to tell the difference between normal soreness and a problem only comes by paying close attention to your feelings.

When you were young, your body did what you told it to do, for the most part. You could work all day, party all night, and be ready to go again the next morning. Because your body was always there for you, you took it for granted. Bodies don’t like that. So, the body starts to talk a little louder. The way your body talks to you when it really wants you to listen is pain.

Here’s another example. You feel pain when you touch a hot stove. That pain is there to order you to take your hand off that burner before it gets burned to a crisp. You might not do it, otherwise. There are people who have a rare condition where they don’t feel pain. It’s called congenital analgesia. You might think this would be a good thing, but it’s not. These people don’t live long. They break their bones, burn their skin, and go months with an abscessed tooth they know nothing about. Be glad that you can feel pain, even though you might not enjoy it when it happens.

Suffering is a different matter. In the next post, we’ll look at the difference between pain and suffering.

Introduction to a Field Guide to Feelings

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

I get it if you don’t think it’s important to talk about your feelings. I really do.

You see, I haven’t always been a therapist, asking people about their feelings. I used to do hard work: building things, cooking things, and growing things. When I was younger, I played sports that had me hurl my body towards other bodies and make them hurt. Having done that, I know there are many settings where feelings are out of place. Continue reading

How to Ditch Shame


You’ve done something wrong. You’ve not been as good as you could be. You hurt someone you love, someone who deserves better from you. This person might be a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Whoever it is; where you were once trustworthy, you’re now unreliable. You were close, but now you’re distant. You were loved, but now there’s disgust. You want to do better, but you don’t know how. You’ve apologized, maybe a hundred times, but you can’t get past it. You know that your action, even though it was wrong, was not the whole story. There were precipitating factors. It’s complicated, you’d like to explain, but you can’t talk about it without sounding like you’re making excuses. You wish there were another way between groveling and pride. You’d like to learn from your mistakes without losing your dignity and voice.

There’s a way to repair what was damaged.

What you’ve got to do is ditch shame. Continue reading

Guilt and Shame: Good and Bad Ways to Feel Bad


As soon as you see how you are responsible for trouble, you are met by two emotions who offer to be your guide: guilt and shame. Which one should you go with? Is there a difference between the two?

It’s easy to confuse guilt with shame. People refer to them interchangeably, like twins who are often mistaken. Along with embarrassment and pride, they both belong to the family of moral emotions. They pop up whenever you do something wrong. But, other than that, they’re very different, and if you discover that shame has been your guide, you should ditch it as soon as possible and go the other way. Continue reading

Disgust Management


I have an idea for a new business opportunity for shrinks. You know how they have anger management classes that judges, employers, and spouses send people to when they keep losing their cool? The kind like in the movie with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson? Yeah, that. Well, anger’s not the only emotion that needs to go to class. There ought to be disgust management classes, too. Continue reading