Feeling, Thinking, Doing

This is what psychology is about, and as a result, this is what life is about for people, particularly as they engage the world of things, ideas, and people. We tend to be good at one of these, fair at another, but almost always less than good at the third. Let me explain the paradigm of feeling, thinking and doing.

The Feeling Process

You may be aware that Deb and I are in the process of writing a book tentatively entitled, I Need to Tell You How I Feel, and that we have written a number of blogs on the matter of “feeling.” It is most important to note, however, that “feeling” does not equate to emotion, but rather, emotion is a subset of feeling, or more accurately erupts out of feeling. We see feeling as central to the core of us human beings and a phenomenon that is so important that it cannot be defined, just like the basic elements of the universe, time, space, and distance, cannot be defined. We can understand and “feel” feelings, just like we can understand time, space, and distance, but we cannot define feelings. We just have to feel them, or perhaps “know” them like when one says something like, “I don’t know what it is but I just feel it.”

Having noted that feeling is not the same thing as emotion, I should also note that these two experiences are quite aligned. When I feel something my first experience is physical. This may be a “gut level” feeling, a sick to the stomach reeling, or a wonderful feeling (of love, perhaps) in the chest, or an excited feeling that may be all over the body. The second experience after having a physical experience of a feeling is an emotional one. At this stage, my feelings become emotional with one predominant emotion, possibly two connected emotions. The basic emotions we have are fear and anger for defense, and joy and sorrow regarding something I love. Both the physical experiences are unconscious. In other words, we do not have any conscious control or conscious activity during these two basic experiences of “feeling.” After the experiences of physical and emotional the next stage in experiencing feeling is a cognitive one. I think about what I feel. Finally, I take action in some form. I might say something, do something, or perhaps just sit on the couch thinking or feeling something.

Feeling-based people

While all people have this four-part experience of feelings, people tend to gravitate to one of these quadrants, most specifically one of the last three: feeling emotionally, feeling cognitively, or feeling actively. People who primarily feel emotionally are gifted with the ability to know how they feel emotionally and very often know how other people feel emotionally. They are drawn to their own emotions and to other people’s emotions. They tend to be great achievers in the realm of human connectedness.

Thinking-based people

This is the third operation of experiencing feelings. In this arena people think of possibilities, reasons, and meaning. They think of what they feel emotionally and they think of what they might do actively. Such people tend to be analytical and enjoy a conversation that is philosophical, religious, or theoretical. They get much feeling-based pleasure in such conversations. They tend to be great achievers in the realm of figuring things out.

Doing-based people

These are the people who, quite simply, do things. They take great joy in experiencing their deep feelings in some kind of activity. This activity is usually productive, but it could also be quite routine. The doers of the world are those who are always busy, and if not busy in the moment, they are certainly planning how to be busy in the near future. They tend to be people with great achievement in the realm of things

The combinations:

Recall that we tend to have one predominant feature, whether feeling, thinking, or doing, but that having bee said, we tend to have a secondary function as well:

  • Feeler-thinker people (or thinker-feeling people)

These folks love to have conversation. They talk easily and freely moving across the domains of emotion and cognition. Hence, they are the best conversationalists, and rarely do people find them boring because they can move from emotion to thought easily.

All people have some challenges in life. People who are feeler-thinker types tend to fail to do much in life. While this is not always the case, they would much rather just talk about something or theorize about something than do something. Hence, their lives are often devoid of accomplishment.

  • Feeler-doer people (or doer-feeling people)

These folks love to help people. They are the nurses of the world, whether formally in a hospital or informally taking care of elderly, infirmed, or children. They just love to take care of people, usually serving their very basic needs, like feeling, sleeping, and even toileting. Because they are so aware of other people’s emotions and also knowledgeable at how to do things, they tend to get worn out with all their caretaking. They often do things for people that really shouldn’t be done. This would be the mother who gives too much to her children, gets exhausted and has no time for play or conversation.

  • Thinker-doer people (doer-thinker people)

These are the people who see something that needs to be done and just do it. I think the “just do it” statement was made for them and by them. They tend to be much less aware of people’s needs, whether physical or emotional, and much more aware of what needs to be done to take care of stuff. The difficulties they face has to do with the absence of emotion, both their own and the emotion of other people. As a result of their neglecting their own feelings, they can become too easily angered, often because other people are not doing as much as they are doing.


The great psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, suggested that true maturity was developing what he called the “shadow” of one’s personality. This can be seen as the parts of us that are not particularly natural to our psychological functioning. I agree heartily. True maturity is developing an awareness, an ability, and ultimately some skill in operating “out of our comfort zone.” Few people actually mature in this way because it is hard work and most importantly, they don’t want to do it. They might want to be “mature,” but they don’t want to do the hard work of maturing. The “hard work of maturing” is using one’s strengths to approach one’s limitations or weaknesses. Most of us resist this kind of maturing because we would prefer to continue to use our strengths and natural abilities even though these may no longer be sufficient in life.

I see the three combinations of feeling, thinking, and doing noted above with the dilemmas that usually accompany them. Feeler-doer people tend to do too much often for other people, get exhausted and become unhappy in their later years. Thinker-doer people often end up with few if any people in their lives because they have been so busy doing and equally busy figuring things out, but not particularly attending to their own emotions, much less the emotions of other people. Feeler-thinker people tend to fail at finding any kind of practical, and ultimately meaningful, success in life because they are so good at talk, but much less good at doing anything. These three types of people may be very bright and may be very good people of character, but they have not matured beyond their basic natures.

We can do well with our primary and secondary operations in life, whether feeling, thinking, or doing, but we can’t fare well in later life because the undeveloped part of us will began to dominate our lives: no people (thinker-doers), no rest (feeler-doers), or meaningful work (feeler-thinkers).

Feelings XI: Paradoxical Feelings

We have been studying “feelings” for some time now, and this is our latest edition. Readers may peruse the previous 10 contributions to the topic. Deb and I are furiously working on a book incorporating all what we have written about and more, but the publication of that work will be sometimes in the future, hopefully near future. We I want to discuss with you today is what we call “paradoxical feelings,” namely feelings that seem to contradict one another. Importantly, the seeming contradictory appearance of feelings has mostly to do with words.

Words aren’t feelings

This is a very important concept that is at the heart of many successful times of communication and even more times of unsuccessful times of communication. To say that words are not feelings is to say several things, not the least of which is neurological, but also relational, and even spiritual. A very brief neurological review regarding this matter is to note that the left side of the brain (actually the cerebellum, the left front part of the brain) is the “housing” of language. We know this because if someone has a stroke, that person often cannot speak well or cannot speak at all. Such a person, interestingly, however, has a sense of self, has a sense of what s/he wants to say, but is unable to put these thoughts and feelings into words. Thoughts and feelings actually reside largely in the right hemisphere of the brain (the right cerebellum). So when I speak something, whether thought or feeling, those thoughts and feelings originate neurologically in the right hemisphere of the brain and then are processed into the left hemisphere of the brain in the form of words. Understand, this brief explanation is roughly true, and true neuropsychologists would be aghast at my simplifying this complicated neurological process. This simple understanding, however, leads us to the statement, “words are not feelings” because feelings (and most thoughts) are not naturally words.

Words are one way of expressing feelings but words are not the feelings. If I could get this across to people, they would reduce their disagreements, arguments, and divorces by 90% because it is the communication of feelings in words, or rather the lack of communication in words that causes all three of these unfortunate experiences. Words express feelings approximately, but the words themselves are not feelings, only one way of communicating feelings. Not only is it true that words are not feelings, they are not the only way feelings are communicated.

Other ways of communicating feelings

The other ways of communicating feelings include emotion, music, art, work, play, physical expressions, and even silence. Many of these means of feeling expression are valuable and often it is better to communicate feelings through means other than words. Poets and composers of music work diligently to communicate feelings, sometimes very successfully although they would admit that the feeling that someone has when reading their poetry or listening to their music may not be the feeling the composer had in the composition. Feelings can be communicated by a facial expression or in some kind of work or play that often communicates one’s feelings better than words. A couple of days ago a man told me that the absolute best moments in his life were when he won a stack car race. I can’t quite imagine the feeling he had because race care driving certainly is not among my passions, but it has been one of his for many years, and when he told me about this feeling, he also noted that he hadn’t race car driven for more than a decade. I know of several “bikers,” especially those who drive Harley’s, who say that the wind in their hair, the meeting and greeting another biker, and the hobnobbing that they do at biker rallies communicates their feelings better than anything else. I have heard people express their feelings over this past week or so in the love of a sports team, the affirmation of one’s transsexual nature, sexual contact, art, music, video games, and silence. I aver that many people communicate their feelings well but not necessarily in words, and yet it is in the realm of words that people struggle to communicate feelings more than any other modality.

The paradox of paradoxical feeling expressions

Expressions of feelings are often paradoxical, seemingly inconsistent, and sometimes downright contradictory. Over the past few days I have heard the following paradoxical expressions of feelings:

  • From a man whose wife has left him for another man:
    • “I really want Joan home under almost any circumstance
    • “I can’t imagine having Joan home. I don’t think I would allow it.”
  • From a man who is in the midst of a possible life change:
    • I have to leave San Francisco. The place is bad for me
    • I can’t imagine leaving San Francisco
  • From a teenager:
    • I hate my mother more than anyone else in the world
    • My mother is the most important person in the world to me
  • From a man in his early 30’s:
    • I can’t stay with my partner (because it is essentially without sex)
    • I can’t imagine leaving partner (I can live without sex)
  • From a gay man:
    • I can’t leave my wife. She is the most important person in my life
    • I can’t see spending the rest of my life pretending to be straight
  • From a man in his mid-40’s:
    • I can’t live with my wife anymore, and I know that my staying is not good for my kids.
    • It is absolutely impossible for me to leave (largely because of the kids)
  • From a lifelong Democrat:
    • I can’t think of any possibility of voting Republican for the rest of my life
    • I truly believe that I will vote for this one Republican
  • From a mother:
    • I can’t stand my child
    • I can’t live without my child
  • From a sports fan:
    • I have given up on my favorite team
    • I will never give up on my favorite team

These seemingly contradictory statements came from intelligent people, often from people who are quite emotionally mature and spiritually mature. Why would people make such statements, sometimes in quick succession? Wouldn’t they think that one of these statements is true while the other is false? Many people get caught in this dilemma and end up quite confused and frustrated. I try to help them understand that words are not feelings, that feelings often represent the deepest part of who we are, but that it is necessary to muddle through the murky waters of feelings with approximate, even contradictory statements until these deep feelings can be trusted.

Feel, Think, and Act

Feeling, thinking and acting are the three ingredients of psychological functioning. We have to feel something, need to think about things, and need to do things. Thinking about things lends itself well to words, and doing something is also the result of talking and musing about what might be done, but feelings do not lend themselves very well to words. When I “feel something,” I feel this first physically and then emotionally, but the initial sense of feeling has nothing to with words. It has to do with a sense of something, the right about something, the wrong about something, the beauty about something, the ugliness about something, and may other ways of getting to the understanding that feelings, however important and central in human existence, are not words. So when I put my feelings into words, not only do they pass first through my physical experience, but also my emotional experience before they get to my left brain when I construct words to express these feelings.

Some years ago Deb came up with the 10-2-1 program of doing the right thing. What she meant by this is that to do the right thing, you need to think clearly about what you should do, often choosing between two different possibilities. However, in order to think clearly, you need to have felt through the matter ten times. So, the program is: feel about ten times, think twice, and then act once. It is the “feeling” part of this that is hardest because feelings do not lend themselves to exact words. The task is to allow the feelings to be expressed in approximate words that is hardest. What we tell our patients is this: Feel, feel, feel, and finish feeling your feelings so you can think clearly and ultimately act appropriately. But how do you do this? You allow for the expression of paradoxical feelings.

Allowing for paradoxical feelings

This is quite simple: give yourself a wide berth in expressing your feelings knowing that whenever you express feelings in words, the words are approximate at best, that the words are imprecise, and the words are but a vague expression of the murky waters of feelings. This means, quite simply, that you need to say something one day and quite different thing the next day. And sometimes it isn’t days separating these statements; it might be minutes or seconds. If for instance, I find myself something like, “I can’t stand where I live” at one time and “I love where I live” at another, allow these statements to be feeling statements, not factual statements. Both of these statements are true to some degree and false to some degree. If you allow yourself the freedom to say both of these imprecise statements, you will eventually finish your feelings and be able to think clearly. The danger is jumping from “I hate where I live” to moving, or “I love where I live” to staying. You can get to the truth of where you should live if you simply allow these feelings to come out in imprecise words knowing that the words are but a poor reflection of your inner feeling. This is no easy task because people either want to race right through their emotion and make a rational decision, or stay with their emotion and make an emotional decision. What you need to do is make a feeling statement, or statements until it makes sense to you what you should do. Of course, you want it both ways.

Wanting it both ways

The essence of feeling-based statements is the fact that you want it both ways. If you are in a quandary about moving, for instance, you want the joys of staying and you want the joys of leaving. Likewise, you want to get out of the difficulty of staying while at the same time you want to avoid the difficulty of moving. Moving or staying can only be a rational and right decision after you have rambled through the difficulty of feeling through the whole matter of moving. You will be sad if your stay because, perhaps, because you will miss out of what you might have in a new place. You will be sad if you leave because you will miss out on what you have had in your present location. You will be sad on either account. Likely, you will note the fear associated with staying or leaving first before you can allow yourself to feel the sadness of both of these actions. So when you ramble through these paradoxical statements that erupt from your inner feelings, give yourself the freedom to feel the implicit sadness of any decision you have to make. In fact, Deb and I don’t think it is really a decision so much as it is a discovery.  You can discover the right thing to do when you have given lots of room for your inner feelings to be expressed, albeit imprecisely and paradoxically.




Temperament VII: Lovers: Challenges and Opportunities

This is the seventh of a series of nine blogs on “temperament.” Previously, I have discussed the four temperaments that we have used to understand people for the past nearly 50 years. As we have defined these four temperaments, we identify players, lovers, analysts, and caretakers. Briefly stated, players seek experience, lovers seek connection, analysts seek truth, and caretakers seek effective use of property. For a more thorough review, see my previous blogs on temperaments, particularly on “lovers,” our current discussion. I also want to note that no one fits perfectly in any one of these categories, but rather people tend to be somewhat like other people in one of these categories, and sometimes two of them. Furthermore, people have characteristics of all of these four temperaments. And even more important, temperament theory is only one way of understanding psychological make-up. We will eventually discuss personality “type”, which was originated by psychologist Carl Jung and popularized by Elizabeth Briggs-Myers in the popular MBTI instrument. Other ways of understanding people would include gender matters, cultural matters, intellectual matters, and personal development. You will note, however, that our interest in understanding people is not particularly oriented towards psychopathology, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and the like. We have done a bit of such study in previous blogs as well.

In very brief review, the people we call “lovers” are people whose primary orientation is towards human connection. This is a concept that is hard to explain in objective terms because it is so subjective by nature. Like, what does it mean to be “connected” to someone? Lovers use this term all the time, using it as if everyone understands it. But not only are there widely different understandings of what “connection” means to people of different temperaments, we won’t be successful in actually defining this concept except to say that connection is a “feeling” (there we go again with an undefined, but important word) that happens when one person feels a kind of unity, closeness, or deep understanding of another person. We might call it a “spiritual” thing that happens to people, but this word is also undefined. So, let us proceed with this discussion in the murky waters of human connection that is certainly very real but just as certainly undefined, at least in objective terms.

Our current discussion is how one can be a “lover” in temperament and find success in life, i.e. relationships, work, play, and personal life. To be successful at anything one has to understand what he/she is by nature, which includes temperament among many other things. I just talked to a guy who is a “biker” among other things (also a mechanic and a truck driver; also a pretty intelligent person). He told me that an important female relationship didn’t work out with his former girlfriend partly because she didn’t understand his passion for all that goes with being a biker. I think that if he could have adequately explained his biking passion, he might have better at succeeding at his relationship, but he admits that he has very little skill at such things. Importantly, biking is important to him. So, there are many things that are important in what it means to be a person, among them passions like biking, but also temperament. The first thing that a lover person needs to know and do is to understand the nature of being a lover, which means seeking connections. But what does that mean? We discussed this somewhat in the previous blog about the Lover Temperament. In a nutshell it means that the person with this lover nature needs to see its connection-based nature, see that this is a good thing, a godly thing, and a valuable thing. This is the beginning of success in life: knowing my basic goodness.

The second thing is much harder, particularly for lovers: not all people are lovers, nor should they be. This is a very hard pill for lovers to swallow because love and connections come so easily to them, that they think love and connections should come as easily to everyone. I have to hammer away at lovers in my office to get the point across that they have a “gift”, which happens to be the gift of love (and connections), and that have an opportunity and an obligation to use this gift in the world. What does that mean?

It means that whatever they do, lovers will have love and connections at the bottom of their desire, whether this is relationship, job, friend, play, or personal reflection. So, if you are a lover, know that your approach to all of this will be to find some kind of connection. I just spent another hour with a typical lover, who is primarily distraught because his 32-year relationship hasn’t been successful. It is beyond his ability to conceive that his seeking of connection, however good and godly, was not enough, and is not yet enough to have a successful relationship. Nothing wrong with being a lover, nothing whatsoever; in fact, everything right about it. But loving and connecting is not enough. His wife, whom I know but briefly, is certainly of a different temperament, and simply does not need, and does not want, the connection that Sam wants all the time. This is a tough pill for Sam to swallow, but it is one he has to swallow if he wants his relationship to succeed. The same is true of the rest of life.

The rest of life is work, play, friends, and self-reflection. Knowing that you approach all these things, even the self-reflection part, with a penchant for connections is very important. Ideally, you have a spouse, co-worker, and friends who understand your need for connection, but it is just as likely that you do not. So finding success in these important arenas of life means that you have to know that your gift is but one of many in life, and at the most ¼ of what it means to be a complete person. This does not mean that you have to just tolerate your spouse, friend, or co-worker, but it does mean that unless he/she is a lover like you, you will not be able to forge the connection that is dear to you. You can have connections, but you can’t have them with most people, and maybe not even with your friend, co-worker, or even your spouse. You have to have connections, but you can’t have them with everyone like you would like. So, how do you cope with this? Sadness.

You cope with having less than universal connections with everyone in your life by allowing yourself to feeling sad. In fact, if you do it right, you will actually feel sad more often than most people because you love more than most people. If you don’t allow yourself to feel sad (and lonely and disappointed), you will end up feeling irritable, angry, and resentful. This is when you are not at your best, and sadly, very sadly, many lovers end up being quite the opposite of being the lovers that God made them to be simply because they expected too much of other people, namely expecting then to want connections. When lovers do not have the connections that they so dearly need in life, they can become angry, irritable, and even mean spirited.

Having discussed (briefly) some of the grief associated with being a lover, how might such a person find success in life, i.e. relationships, play, work, and friendships? First by noting and valuing this love gift, secondly by recognizing that most people don’t have it, and thirdly finding people and places where you can, indeed, have real connections. You might, for instance, find a connection with someone who is not a lover, but you feel the connection even though he doesn’t feel it. You might want him to feel it, but it can be just as good for you to feel it, perhaps entirely silently, without his even knowing that you are feeling it. You can find that moment in time when you feel something with a co-worker or boss at work, perhaps a time when you really feel what they feel, be it sad, hurt, lonely, excited, or hopeful. So, these brief moments of connection might not be what you would like relationships to be about, but it can be very good for you and keep you going in life.

Aside from taking these brief moments of connection, you need to foster one or two relationships that are mutually connecting. Lovers absolutely need this in their lives, and if they don’t find it, they will find some kind of compensation. Compensations tend to be anger, addiction, and avoidance. If you find yourself in any of these, know that you are compensating for the lack of the intimacy that is so central to your living and being. But finding that right person is no easy task and there are many confederates to the real thing, like affairs, for instance. I think most affairs occur because one or both of the parties happens to be a lover, usually a lover who doesn’t have someone with whom he/she has real connection. The addictions that people have in their lives are also compensatory, but then they become the go-to thing to do instead of doing the very hard work of developing a long-term relationship with someone, having a good friend or two, finding pleasure in work, and having good play in life. If someone has all of these things (good work, good play, good friend, and good intimate), addictions simply are not as fun and not as attractive.

All of this is very hard work, and the finding that the whole world is not made up of lovers like you is the most painful part of the work, and the most necessary part of the work. Then you will be at your best, giving, forgiving, learning, leaving, and connecting.