How are you Feeling?

by Eunice J Minford MA FRCS Ed, Consultant Surgeon, N Ireland

A simple observation highlights to me the importance of the difference between what we feel and what we think, particularly when it comes to health. The world we live in gives precedence to the intelligence of the mind and/or the brain without taking full cognisance of the intelligence of the body. Thinking and thoughts are associated with the mind/brain and much weight is given to the acquisition of knowledge and information and the cognitive disciplines in education and professional life. In contrast, feelings are often dismissed or ignored or over-ridden. They may be negatively associated with emotions or a so-called ‘emotional person’ or someone being too ‘touchy feely’ as opposed to the rational, logical thinker. Certainly as a child I was lead to believe that feelings were somewhat irrelevant; I was not encouraged to express what I felt but instead learned the opposite. I thought it was good to be the ‘strong silent’ type who didn’t disclose feelings or personal matters. Everything was always ‘fine’ no matter what was really going on.

Whilst thoughts may appear to arise in the mind, feelings come from the body and are the language of the intelligence of the body. When I do a ward round in the morning, I ask patients “How are you feeling?” not  “What are you thinking?” if I want to know what is going on for them and their wellbeing.

This simple observation clarifies that if we want to know the truth of what is going on in the body and in someone’s health, we ask about how he/she is feeling and respond accordingly. True intelligence is embodied and feelings are the conveyors of that intelligence.

Yet so little importance is really given to understanding the feeling realm within medicine. Medical training itself is a good way to learn how to ignore and over-ride one’s feelings; we often end up using food, alcohol or excess work to numb ourselves and not feel what is really going on. The onslaught of medical training, the hours of work, the vast amounts of material to be learned, having to deal with exposure to high levels of suffering and trauma of various kinds, results in people hardening to be able to cope. Yet it is a false coping mechanism that leads to over-worked, cynical, burnt-out doctors who have difficulty caring for themselves, never mind their patients.

To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves.

This means listening to and honouring our own feelings about how we feel, being aware of when we are over-working and becoming exhausted. It means taking the time to get a good night’s sleep, to eat healthy nourishing food and to be emotionally aware so that we are not dumping our undealt with anger /rage / aggression /sadness etc on our fellow colleagues and patients. I rather ignorantly and arrogantly used to think that my angry outbursts were just part of who I was – that I was made that way and people could ‘like it or lump it,’ not realising that I could take steps to address the root cause of that anger – which had nothing to do with the situation at hand.

I have found that the ability to truly care for myself is something that deepens the more I live it and that there is much more to it than I ever imagined. Indeed, some of my preconceived ideas about what it means to be self-caring have been challenged. For example, there is the general belief that exercise is good for the body irrespective of the nature of the exercise and I have come to realise that aggressive forms of exercise, that push my body harder and harder, are not actually good for it.

Furthermore, I have discovered that the more I truly care for myself, the more I am able to care, both for others and myself. I have also become aware that there are a myriad of ways that can interfere with my ability to care for myself due to my engrained ways of living – yet I know I always have the power to choose that which is truly caring or not. It always seemed easier to care for others than it did for myself and indeed some would consider putting others before oneself is the way to live. Alas, that does not lead to true care, for to know what true care is, it must be lived by oneself and then it becomes but a natural expression of who one is and an equality of care is then delivered to all.

404 thoughts on “How are you Feeling?

  1. I love that Eunice, I ask my patients how they feel not what they are thinking. It almost seems comical when you put it like that, if we want to know how the body is we ask the body and the body’s language is feeling not thinking. I love it when simplicity sheds light on what can become complex, when we ask the mind!

  2. Quite often we are asked by doctors ‘How are you feeling’ and yet we automatically, unless we are in severe pain, often go by what our head says, and to dismiss the messages of the body. Often we say things like ‘Not too bad’ or ‘Can’t grumble’, but what if we were to give a reading to the best of our ability at that time, on everything that the body is messaging us. Things such as aches and pains, anxiousness, any tension held and where – would it be fair to say that these types of reporting back would give the doctors more to go on, and also give the patient the opportunity to nominate what’s really going on for them.
    It seems that the doctor patient relationship has a huge potential to deepen, and that we are short changing ourselves on both sides of the relationship.

  3. I am understanding more and more that the only way I can deliver a quality to others is if I have already built it into my own life. We can not be truly caring of others if we are not taking at least that same level of care of ourselves.

  4. You state that to provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves, this is not something that you ever hear said in the doctors surgery or the hospital, yet once you have heard it you can feel the truth in the words. From nowhere it becomes an obvious. Yet how many nurses and doctors actually care for themselves?

  5. I’m not a doctor but I can very much relate to what you share, how I feel and what I think are two often very polar opposite things – for me it is learning to listen to my feeling and trust these again – as I have been one to override these and try to work things out from my head, which just complicates things, feelings are very simple and clear and don’t come with all the extra questions, arms and legs.

  6. I have also discovered that the more I care for myself the more I truly care for others and it comes less from a need to feel useful and more from a commitment to being open to others. I’ve always been a carer of others first and me last or never…and now that I’ve turned that around, I can feel the difference. My caring is no longer an imposition of sorts (read: s-mothering), it’s a genuine offering of support.

  7. Feelings cannot be discounted. Even in the medical world, one of the primary tools for analysis relies on asking a patient how they feel. Perhaps, you say, that is because it is impractical to employ other analytical tools to every patient. I would venture otherwise, that we have learnt over time that analytical tools on their own are actually quite limiting, because of the infinitely variable nature of the human being, and that there is something about feeling that enables us to circumvent the slow and steady road of logic, which in itself is a path easily hindered by the multiple variablles it has to contend with.

  8. It is interesting how often we may ask others how they are feeling but do not accord the same care for ourselves, dismissing and neglecting our own self care.

  9. Brilliant and at the same time a no-brainer: ‘to know what true care is, it must be lived by oneself and then it becomes but a natural expression of who one is and an equality of care is then delivered to all.’ How on earth did we end up missing that?

  10. It would be great that all studying doctors get a training in what it means to take care for yourself and from there how to be with others as a part of their examination.

  11. It makes sense that being guided to feeling our body rather than giving an opinion of how we think we are feeling from the mind allows us to be honest of what our body is truly communicating to us and responding so that we allow the opportunity to look deeper into our lifestyle choices that may be detrimental to our health and well-being. The body naturally responds the more tender and caring we are.

  12. To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves. This makes absolute sense, but several years ago I did not have that understanding or level of focus on myself at all. Now I absolutely love my body and what it is constantly reflecting to me, that it is so worth choosing to self care and nurture myself.

  13. This consciousness is still very much running in our world which has us believing that, a person who feels or expresses what they feel is weak, emotional, and therefore less capable. Yet as you have pointed out we are already naturally living in connection, to a small degree, to what we are feeling. For example, if we feel cold we put a jumper on, and in medicine we are asked what is going on in our bodies in which the doctor responds with a diagnosis or treatment. So, it is interesting that this is a far as we go with it. We have lost sight of our ability to live in connection to and in honor of a far greater intelligence that is innate in us all, by instead succumbing to the false belief that our minds know best. But if we are to look at the evidence it seems obvious that the activity of the mind, we have been calling championing as intelligence to date, is far from guiding to live with harmony, well-being and vitality that our bodies naturally know how to live.

  14. Thank you Eunice, this reminded me how often we get absorbed with other things in life, and don’t actually stop to truly feel how our body is feeling, and how important it is to actually take notice of what is being offered to us from listening to our body.

  15. This is a very basic truth but one that needs to be stated again and again. We can only truly care for others when we truly care for ourselves. Energetically this is the way it is.

  16. In my experience, when I live in and with my physical body I feel a deep love for others, as a simple flow of warm loving energy. If I choose instead my old patterns, I find myself having to tell myself to be tender and caring, this I do, but the naturalness and flow is missing.

  17. Feeling v thinking: yes, feeling is, by and large, a very poor cousin to the glamour of the intellect and as you say Eunice, many erroneously associate feeling with emotion, if not emotional excess. But feeling is highly intelligent – it’s the capacity to finely discern what is going on within and around us, to the point where, if we develop our ability to feel, we can read all of life and even know what is coming towards us. Now that to me seems highly intelligent.

  18. It’s an absolute travesty that our new doctors are subjected to such gruelling conditions once they begin their careers on the hospital floor – a punishing tone set by the university study regime. It’s also extremely perverse given doctoring is about health care, and surely sends a message that self-care is not something anyone should take particularly seriously. Doctor burn-out serves no one.

  19. It’s right there in front of us and was there the whole time, how could I not have seen it before? “I ask patients “How are you feeling?” not “What are you thinking?” if I want to know what is going on for them and their wellbeing. We all do this, I have never had anyone come up to me and ask ‘how are you thinking’ and yet nearly everyone uses as their language ‘how are you feeling’ it’s common place. So it would place an importance or a key part to be on how we feel, after all we nearly always ask it of each other. To me this gives us the ‘where to look’ if we are ever sensing something isn’t going well, always feeling.

  20. The understanding that the body has of what is true care is yet to be tapped by the “health and wellbeing” movement. There is an innate intelligence that responds to self-care as surely as the tide flows in and out.

  21. ‘How are you feeling?’ such a simple question but how many of us really share how we are truly feeling. How many of us are connecting to this deeper connection within and with our bodies?

  22. “To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves.” So true but where are we taught this? It makes sense that if we are not looking after ourselves and not living in a caring nurturing way, and are exhausted stressed and working long hour as many doctors do that the way we care for another will be flawed.

  23. When someone asks us, how are you, it’s like an instant automatic response to say, good, which is coming from the mind. When someone asks us how are you feeling, we are more likely to feel how the body is travelling and give a truer response.

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