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Feelings or emotions are an important topic in Why This Way. Our views on emotion are complex; we tend to give feelings importance, but also be cautious about the ways in which we talk about them.

Some of the relevant points from our core beliefs and practices, related to emotion, include:

  • Our beliefs specify that in a healthy state, people respond to their emotions in empowering and constructive ways, and people feel like their basic needs are met.
  • Our belief that people take responsibility for their actions but not for outcomes beyond their control, implies that people are not responsible for other people's feelings, and are responsible more for their actions and words (which people have more direct control over) than for their feelings (which people have limited control over).
  • We have a practice of not trying to make people feel guilt or shame.
  • Our practice about not supporting punishment for the purpose of inflicting pain or suffering includes the concept of not punishing people by trying to make them feel bad.

Emotion and the rules of communication

Our rules of communication prohibit making a statement about another person's thoughts, intentions, and motivations, and we usually interpret this to also prohibit making a statement about a person's feelings ("she felt uncomfortable"), but to allow making statements about our impressions or reading of a person's feelings ("she seemed uncomfortable to me"). This distinction is important because people can (and frequently do) misread other people's emotions, yet some degree of reading emotions is essential for many types of human interaction.

Feelings also play a key role in the rules of communication for many participants in our group, although we do not specify or claim that this experience is in any way universal or necessary. Most of the rules of communication which were established in our first meeting, came from the observations of the founding participants in the group that we would often feel uncomfortable in response to specific things that people said or did during conversations. Identifying exactly what made us uncomfortable and why, and describing these things in writing, was one of the key factors that led to the rules of communication.

However, feeling and emotion are only two of many factors influencing the rules of communication. Our rules also reflect the influence of logic and science, as many of the rules also relate to common fallacies or errors in logic, and the rules are also shaped by observations from cognitive behavioral therapy about cognitive distortions characteristic of mental disorder. Another way of looking at the rules is that many of them are intended to address patterns of communicating that are pointed to as problematic by the intersection of emotion, logic, and the science of psychology.