Dr Jonathan Haverkampf
Feeling oneself may sound easy, but it is what we do not do enough of. It is a communication process with the parts of oneself that define who we are. The most therapy accomplishes is usually to facilitate this flow of information. Our values in the broadest sense, the features of the desired state of the world that truly makes us happy, do not change much, if at all, over time. To a significant part they derive from our biology. However, this derivation is sensitive to the information that is added after birth. While a fundamental value may not change, such as finding science interesting and worthwhile, one may find out that practicing science is more rewarding in the interaction with people than in a lab, which is the consequence of experiencing another value, enjoyment of the interpersonal contact. How do we find these values? By developing a sense for how we feel about things and activities.
Feeling oneself is a prerequisite to communicating with the world. Unless we can communicate with ourselves and find the values, interests and aspirations that shape our interactions, we will not be able to send out clear and unambiguous messages. The reason is that we subconsciously communicate on various levels all the time, and that even all our conscious messages are influenced by these unconscious messages all the time. To decode messages from other people, whether verbal or nonverbal, such as a gesture or facial expressions, we need to be aware of how we interpret information from the world reaching us. If one does not trust people much, it is important to question if another person’s message really is that he or she has ulterior motives in mind and wants to hurt us. A good starting point is to assume that people share certain fundamental values, but their life experiences and what they were told over time can bring many people out of contact with these values. We do not want to steal someone else’s job, but we have learned that we cannot rely on other people … Over time being out of sync with one’s values will come back to haunt one, because the world ends up becoming a place we do not really want to live in.
Having a sense for what one values and is important to oneself, one needs to be able to observe oneself, one’s thoughts, behaviors and emotions. This reflection happens in an automatic form as ‘feeling’, because there is much more information that reaches our brain than we could ever consciously process. Reflecting on feelings as highly condensed information, however, is possible and a very important process. A good happy feeling means that most of the information that reaches us confirms that our life in the present moment is in sync with who we are, our fundamental values, our interests and aspirations. When things start to go wrong we have a bad feeling. Then it is important to find out what is going wrong. This process allows us to use huge volumes of information to base our decisions, our actions and our behaviors on.
Many people suffering from burnout and various kinds of anxieties have become out of sync with feeling themselves. Not knowing what one values and feels strongly about, makes it difficult to establish a compass in life, and without the compass many people get lost in little details that seem unconnected and devoid of meaning. If we do not live in sync with who we are for an extended length of time, our jobs and relationships lose meaning, and in the end we lose ourselves.
Having a sense of oneself also helps with relationships, especially romantic relationships. The more one knows about oneself, the easier one can derive meaning from relationships and be happy. Most relationship tragedies happen, when we no longer follow the compass of our basic values, interests and aspirations. However, once we do, a relationship with another human being can become a splendid and wonderful universe in itself, filled with meaning.
Life has its uncertainties, but following one’s values, interests and aspirations can lead to a truly magical and wonderful story of one’s life. It is living to one’s maximum potential.
© Dr Christian Jonathan Haverkampf. All rights reserved.
Psychotherapy & Counselling, Communication, Medicine (Psychiatry); Dublin, Ireland
This article is solely a basis for academic discussion and no medical advice can be given in this article, nor should anything herein be construed as advice. Always consult a professional if you believe you might suffer from a physical or mental health condition.