The Big Question: Susie Orbach believes that by examining our feelings we allow ourselves to be open to new experiences

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013

As a psychotherapist, I listen to people’s personal philosophies every day. Everyone fashions a set of beliefs by which they try to cope with what life throws at them. Sometimes what gets in the way are unrecognised philosophies of extremism. People either believe themselves to be responsible for everything that befalls them, or they consider themselves victimised by the outside world. "Doer" and "done to"  are both damaging polarities.

So, for me, steps one and two for a personal philosophy are neither to underestimate nor overestimate one’s individual capabilities. This becomes easier if we can link up with those pesky things called feelings. We need to acknowledge that what we first think or feel may not reflect the whole truth. We need to question our knee-jerk responses to situations, to pause and consider them in greater depth, so that we can be sure we are not responding out of fear or prejudice.

Knowing our feelings helps us to develop personal ethics. We won’t always be able to act on everything we feelespecially feelings of hatred, revenge and jealousybut knowing what we feel allows us to manage our thoughts and actions.

Identifying feelings allows us to remain curious  about what’s coming at us from the outside world, and what emerges from within us. It enables us to take old experiences out of the box and explore how we feel and think about them today, rather than leaving them frozen. It allows us to be alive to new experiences. Knowing what we feel means we can connect with others from a basis of respect rather than fear, and link with those who feel differently. We need to know what we personally believe in, for sure, but we also need to be flexible in heart and mind. Then we can make an authentic response to the problems life poses.

What do you think is the best philosophy? Read Jesse Norman on Aristotle, mashed up, Angie Hobbs on Plato's idea of flourishing, Anthony Gottlieb on Hume's scepticism, Simon Willis on particularism and Colin Blakemore on doubtVote now in our online poll

Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, social critic and author of "Fat is a Feminist Issue"

Illustration Neil Gower