I Am Vs. I Feel

(Note: Personal transformation stories from Polaris Institute members are published anonymously to allow the members to share openly and honestly. This story is from “Kyle D.”)


Going through the 3-week transformation program with Polaris was a very powerful experience. There was one particular thing we worked on, however, that had a really big impact on me. It was the difference between “I am” and “I feel.” Let me explain.


Ouch, that hurts 

Whenever we have a physical injury or illness, we all tend to describe it in terms of something we are experiencing. We say things like “I have a headache” or “My knee really hurts” or “My stomach is upset.” We describe what the discomfort is and where it is located.

But, when we are experiencing emotions, we usually describe them very differently: we say “I am.” So, it becomes “I am happy” or “I am depressed” or “I’m pissed off.” I’d never noticed it before, but that’s what I was doing, too. I was saying that I AM that emotion. I would have never said “I am a headache” or “I am an upset stomach,” but I was phrasing it that way all the time with emotions.


More than words 

You could make the case that it’s all just semantics and there are conventions we all use in language that aren’t meaningful, but I realized that for me, at least, the words were true. When my knee hurt, I felt like I was experiencing the pain, but it was not my entire identity. With emotions, however, it really did feel like I WAS that emotion—almost like it had enveloped me and I was inside it. It didn’t matter if the emotion was pleasant or unpleasant. I was equating that emotional feeling with myself as a person. There was a bit of a helpless feeling that came along with that—like I wasn’t able to do anything about how I was feeling and I would just have to continue feeling that way until the carnival ride had run its course.

What I learned from the Polaris ProcessTM however, was the power in reframing emotions to be “I feel” instead of “I am.” “I feel happy” is different that “I am happy.” “I feel sad” is not the same as “I am sad.” So now, I sometimes feel depressed, and other times, I feel happy. But I try to make sure that I no longer “am” any emotions.


It still hurts, but 

Initially, I thought that this idea of stepping back and observing emotional feelings instead of BEING the emotion was a way of trying to not feel things. But I soon realized that isn’t the case. In the end, feeling sad hurts just as much as being sad. It’s just that when I am feeling sad, I don’t lose my whole identity in that feeling like I used to. It doesn’t color my entire reality. That perspective has allowed me to work through difficult situations with much more awareness of what I was feeling and why. In many ways, I think moving from “I am” to “I feel” has allowed me to experience more emotional depth and nuance in my life than I ever had before, which was something I did not expect when I signed up for the Polaris retreat!



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