In the family therapy sessions I run, the feelings wheel has become a bit of a running joke, but it's a vital part of the work that I do. I'll often ask a question like, 'and what's the feeling behind that?' or 'What was your reaction when that happened?'. Most often people reply with a thought, and not a feeling. That's because we have enormous difficulty in differentiating between our thoughts and feelings.
This is one of the essential pieces of family systems theory that came from family therapist, Dr Murray Bowen. A metaphor of differentiation that is helpful to me is thinking of a loved one who is caught up in a rapid flowing river and racing past you, while you watch from the banks of the river. Sometimes our first instinct might be to jump in and swim towards them to save them - that's a little like what love is. There's a problem with that plan, however, and you might get caught up in the currents too and not be able to help anyone. Differentiation is knowing the difference between jumping in after them, or knowing it might be better to stay on solid ground and reach out to help them as they go past.
When we know the difference between thoughts, and feelings, we have more options.
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