Many of us who have had even a brief introduction to meditation, secular or especially related to Buddhism, have also heard the concept of separating what one feels from who one is: “I am happy/angry/sad,” versus “I feel happy/angry/sad.” It always seemed somewhat woo-woo to me, even though I had experienced it for myself. Today, though, a potential reason struck me; I want to explain as best I can with my limited knowledge of psychology. Warning: armchair psychology ahead – for discussion purposes only.
It’s a very subtle distinction: “I feel X” versus “I am X.”
What’s the difference? The key, the node that everything hinges on, is in the verb.
When one ‘feels’ something, saying that distinguishes the feeling from one’s own self, and denotes that feeling as an external force acting on one. It therefore frees one to act upon it or not, as one sees fit.
However, when one ‘is’ something, one sees it as a part of oneself. I’ve seen brief mention of studies that theorize (not conclude) that humans attempt to act in ways that keep their identity consistent; e.g. somebody who has never worked out feels very out of place in a large gym, and a white-collar professional will seem very stiff and fake if they try to hang out with, say, a famous rapper. People who believe they are smart will act in ways that try to confirm that, and so on.
It seems logical to me to extend that into if one feels that a certain emotion is part of one’s identity, however fleeting, one will act in ways to keep that identity consistent. If one ‘is angry’, one will behave angrily, and so on.
Being able to separate the self from the emotion, then, seems to lead to the possibility of not only behaving, but feeling more level-headed.
Note that there is no suppression of emotion, merely acnowledgment as an external entity; if one feels anger, not only does one acknowledge it, one can more accurately examine it and determine whether it is appropriate to express, to what degree, and in what manner.
That, I think, leads to the best outcomes all around. Honest yet consciously expressed emotion; no longer are they forces that toss you and others about, but things you can touch and share, and in the end, what will solve many emotional troubles.
Picture is a shot of the Flatirons from on campus.