Meta-Feelings: How Do You Feel About Feeling Good?

meta-feelings: How do you feel about feeling good? - cartoon of a smiling sun

Do you make judgments when things are going well? If you do, that can stir up meta-feelings. Like metacognition is thinking about thinking, meta-feeling is feelings about feelings.

Mental illness, or even a lot of stress, can mean extended periods of time feeling rather yucky. Periods of feeling good, or at least better in a relative sense, maybe only come every now and then. Because they may be on the rarer side, we’re likely to notice them and then react to what we’re noticing.

Feelings vs thoughts

As a quick detour, we often talk about feeling something when we actually mean thinking. Emotions can usually be described in single words. If you need a whole phrase to say it, it’s probably a thought rather than an emotion.

Primary emotions jump up automatically in response to whatever is going on, and then, based on what we think about those emotions, we respond with secondary emotions or meta-emotions. You might feel guilty, ashamed, angry, or fearful for feeling [X]. There’s nothing you can do about feeling X, because your body is generating that response before you even feel it. However, the guilt, shame, anger, and fear are all modifiable.

Let’s throw in a little bit of mindfulness, too. Primary emotions occur in the present moment. Secondary emotions are likely to involve time-travelling, hauling the past or future in where it doesn’t belong.

Reacting to feeling good

So, here we are, we’re present, and our primary emotion is something good. What meta-emotions are likely to kick in as you react to that feeling good/better? Here are a few ideas.

  • Guilty: How can I feel good when there’s still x, y, and z that I should be doing, plus mom’s going through her chemo, so she’s the one who deserves anything good I can come up with.
  • Ashamed: I’m a horrible person. How dare I feel good? Look how many people are suffering in the world right now; I shouldn’t be feeling good when people everywhere are dying from COVID.
  • Distrustful: Feeling good? I haven’t felt good in months, or maybe even years! I must not actually be feeling good. It’s probably just a sugar high from all the peanut butter cups.
  • Skeptical: It’s been ages since I last felt good. There’s no way this is going to last more than maybe an hour before the shit tide comes right back in.
  • Fearful: What is this feeling? I don’t know what this is. Is it a sign that something bad is about to happen? The calm before the shitstorm?
  • Pleased: I’m glad I’m feeling good. It’s about time.

There are probably more options, but that’s what sprung to mind. I generally fall into the skeptical category, on the lookout for the shit tide. The healthy reaction would be the last one, but come on, who does that?

Do any of these familiar to you?

There’s more on emotions in the post Identifying Emotions.

Mental health coping toolkit

The Coping Toolkit page has a broad collection of resources to support mental health and well-being.

53 thoughts on “Meta-Feelings: How Do You Feel About Feeling Good?”

  1. I use to get anxious about anxiety. That led to a few problems for the therapist to untangle. I also feel guilty from time to time when I catch myself feeling good. I’m getting better at both. Practising acceptance has helped a great deal!

  2. I’ve had these feelings and just started to notice them recently. It’s almost like feeling guilty for being happy, because others may not be happy. Or being afraid that your own happiness will annoy other people. Such a harmful form of self-abuse.

  3. My big one is “undeserving.” How can I feel good if I have not forgiven myself for doing X when I was ill? The goal is to forgive myself for prior actions done when ill or because of ill. If I can’t forgive myself, then the underserving feeling trumps the happiness feeling. All the more reason to try to forgive the self, especially when acting out of illness.

  4. I think I have been feeling guilty a lot lately, guilty that I am not in a bad place compared to others? I just feel thankful and guilty at the same time. Emotions are confusing things!

    1. I find it so interesting that people often naturally have that kind of guilt, because it’s totally illogical. Feeling bad or good doesn’t change anyone else’s circumstances, but the mind wants to go there anyway.

  5. I used to be skeptical, but this was many years ago, way before I came into the blogging world.

    I can remember feeling pleased, but can’t pinpoint when that was now, with me forgetful.

  6. I have felt I don’t know if guilt, or just feeling bad that I couldn’t help a group, that’s close to my heart as much as I would like.

      1. Yes and that’s researching for them, for certain things they are after to share on their Facebook group, as they gather evidence while campaigning regarding how those in care homes are treated.
        I had to take time out cos I was doing stuff for mum, or the deputy side.

            1. Yes, I think it could be why I had my big melt down too and just feeling like I had enough, because I was looking at the same stuff that I had been going through, so slowly getting to me over time and feeling low in the process.

  7. I don’t think I feel anything about how I feel – I might think about how I feel “Wow, I feel good, nothing is hurting today.” But I don’t feel about my feelings. I don’t think…

        1. Oh, okay. I like the acceptance and commitment therapy perspective that our self is the context, and thoughts and feelings are the content that moves across it without defining who we are.

  8. Skeptical is something I do most often too, or distrustful, or sometimes fearful. And I can definitely be pleased too but most of the time it’s accompanied by something less healthy, at least initially.

  9. Guilty and sceptical are very familiar to me but I can be also pleased momentarily (mainly if there is no reason to be guilty of anything). It’s the best feeling ever!

  10. I used to feel on edge………. terrified I’d return to having panic attacks. However, I remember the first time I realised how good I felt at the age of around 30. I’d left my aunt’s house where I’d cried yet again about how much the breakup hurt. Out of the blue, I noticed the sun was shining, flowers were out, everyone was smiling and I realised — I felt really good. I was sat in my car — and I just let it all wash over me — it was an almost ethereal feeling!

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