What Am I Really Feeling? Using Intellectualization to Cope.

The other day, my sponsee told me something that caught me totally off guard. She said, “when you talk about your problems, you seem so emotionally distant from them.” Part of me wanted to get defensive, rationalizing how I am a logical, educated woman who has already processed the pain and no longer feel the need to get super emotional about it. But part of me sat and tasted her words… “emotionally distant from my own feelings.” WTF does that mean?

I took that comment with me all week and decided I had to, no, I wanted to see what more I could gain from it. It really struck a sensitive place and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I even went to church (I’m not a church-goer) to see if I could get some kind of take-away message. Surprisingly, I did. The pastor spoke about genuine prayer. He said that sometimes we say prayers about things that we feel like we “should” say prayers about, but never actually pray and ask for help with the things that are really bothering us. For example, we pray about our spouses changing so that our marriages can get better, but we don’t actually acknowledge that maybe the real issue is that we need help healing our personal need to control, or our personal feelings of inadequacy.

“What’s really going on here?” I asked myself. What am I really feeling? What is it that I really need? I started making a list of all the feelings that I was having but had never vocalized:

I am feeling: Pain, loneliness, sadness, rejection, neglected, abandoned, ignored, invaluable, unwanted, unloved, stupid, ignorant, hurt, betrayed, helpless, torn, broken, tired, exhausted, denied, inadequate, unimportant, replaceable, used, shocked, unprepared, abused, lost, scared, confused, sad, unworthy, unnecessary, useless, powerless…

I realized that whenever I got upset with someone, rather than feel the pain or even understand what it was I was feeling, I would try to rationalize the event and “rise above it” without ever having to actually “deal” with it.

Problem: So my husband acted out again?
My response: That sucks, but that’s what addicts do. He’s sick and I can’t do anything about that.
Problem: My colleague got that promotion I really wanted.
My response: Well, she was more qualified. I should have seen that coming…

Where were the feelings in there? Where are my emotions? Rather than acknowledging a real feeling that happened as a result of me experiencing a real event, I was subconsciously avoiding having to “feel” the feeling. Part of me wanted to just rationalize it as useless. What was the point in feeling bad if it wasn’t going to change the situation?

What’s more interesting was, when and why did I start doing this kind of evading of emotions?

I was intellectualizing everything as a way of coping with my pain.


A classic defense mechanism I never knew I was doing.

That day my husband and I had spent a few hours together so he could see the kids. The kids enjoyed it. It was awkward for us, but I secretly enjoyed seeing him and being near him again. That evening, after living separate from my husband for 3 weeks, he suddenly texted me at 10pm (way past my bedtime) and asked me, “how do you feel?”

He never texts me or asks how I feel. My immediate reaction would normally be to respond, “fine.” But I decided to respond differently this time and typed, “I feel scared. Insecure. Exhausted. Lonely and inadequate…”

He replied, “me too…”

Of our 3 years together, this is the first time I had heard him acknowledge having any kind of feeling. Unfortunately, it was probably the first time he had heard me acknowledge any of my feelings as well. Instead of nagging, controlling, counter-blaming, or intellectualizing our unfortunate situation, we connected.

The unfortunate truth is, that one-time connection won’t be strong enough to save our marriage, and it for sure won’t cure any disease or addiction, but the peace and serenity that comes with just being real with the emotions, allowing them to be acknowledged, and letting them be, was truly healing and far less painful than the anxiety, resentment, and hurt feelings that come with denying them and intellectualizing them away.


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