Once a young woman was in a relationship with a young man. She was happy with the relationship, except for one thing. She often complimented her partner, but he rarely complimented her. Over time, she grew resentful about this—but she never spoke about it. Gradually their relationship soured, and eventually it ended.
Her next relationship started well, but soon the same thing began to happen. She often complimented her partner, but he rarely complimented her. She wanted things to be different this time, but she wasn’t sure what to do. One night in a dream, she met an old woman, and asked her for advice. The old woman said, “When you’re triggered, feel your feelings.” She didn’t quite understand what this meant, but she woke up before she could ask.
In the next few months, she started learning about boundaries. She got more clear about what was important to her in a relationship. One day she spoke up. She told her partner, “I always compliment you, but you never compliment me. You’re taking me for granted, and I don’t like it!” They had a tense conversation.
Eventually he did start complimenting her more—but his compliments didn’t always seem heartfelt. In a dream one night, the old woman appeared again and told her, “Getting clear about your boundaries is a good start. But you can go deeper. When you’re triggered, feel your feelings.”
Years passed. She started a new relationship—and she noticed the same pattern developing. She often complimented her partner, but he rarely complimented her. And she was starting to feel resentful about it.
Remembering how things had turned out last time, she decided to try something different. She started doing practices that helped her cultivate self-awareness, autonomy, and authenticity. She learned about feelings and needs. She got connected with her needs, through self-empathy and empathy. As she did, she experienced a shift—an enemy image she had been holding of her partner was being released, and her resentment was dissipating. She started getting curious about her partner’s feelings and needs—wondering what was going on for him.
One day she expressed what was up for her: “I’m noticing I’ve been complimenting you almost every day, and it’s probably been a week since the last time you complimented me. I’m hurting and sad; I’m needing need more love and support. Would you tell me what you heard me say?” In the conversation that followed, he heard her feelings and needs, and she heard his. Their anger and resentment soon shifted to compassion—and as it did, strategies emerged that they both felt good about. Her partner agreed to set an intention to start complimenting her more often—and he followed through on that intention.
This time the compliments were heartfelt, and when she received them regularly, she felt relaxed and loving. But sometimes, when her partner was busy with other things, he forgot. Sometimes several days went by without any compliments. At times like these, she noticed her hurt feelings returning. In a dream one night, the old woman appeared again and said, “Getting clear about your feelings and needs is an important step. Talking about them with your partner—honestly and vulnerably—is another big step. But you can go deeper. When you’re triggered, feel your feelings.”
Feeling the Feelings
Over the following months and years, she started doing something different. Perhaps it was meditation, yoga, Qigong, or focusing. Perhaps it was ecstatic movement. Perhaps it was a devotional practice—opening to something more significant than herself—like the ecology of Earth, or the energy of needs. Perhaps it was all of the above, or something completely different. Whatever it was, it gradually strengthened her attention and raised her level of energy.
One day, she found herself triggered, once again, by a lack of compliments. She remembered what the old woman had said in her dreams: “When you’re triggered, feel your feelings.” From the inner work she had been doing, she knew it would require some preparation to feel these feelings without getting caught up in them. She would have to stabilize her attention first.
She found a quiet place where no one would disturb her. She started by experiencing her sensations: an ever-changing field of colors, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings in her body. She gradually expanded her field of attention until she could experience all these sensations at the same time. Then she expanded her attention further to include her emotions—including simple feelings of like and dislike, as well as more complex emotions. Finally she expanded her attention further to include her thoughts: her memories, ideas, beliefs, and plans, and an inner voice providing commentary.
Now she found that she could rest her attention in the subtle, visceral, churning field of her emotions and body sensations, without reacting to them. She allowed her thoughts to come and go, without chasing them. She didn’t get distracted, she didn’t try to control her experience, and she didn’t try to work at anything. She didn’t try to name her feelings or interpret them. She didn’t try to connect them to her needs. She didn’t get overwhelmed by them or become them. She just looked to see what feelings were there, and she allowed herself to feel them—that is, to experience them.
At first this was very uncomfortable. These were exactly the feelings she had been trying to avoid all these years by asking her partners to compliment her. But eventually something started shifting. Her feelings had not changed—they were still uncomfortable—but she found, to her surprise, that she could feel them and be at peace at the same time.
As she continued feeling these feelings, something within her started unwinding and relaxing. She was letting go of a tension she had not even noticed she was carrying. As this tension released, she found she could see her attachment to compliments more clearly. She could see how this attachment had developed when she was young, and how it had played out over her whole life—affecting many of her relationships. She had a new sense of freedom around the whole topic.
This shift felt different from the one she had experienced earlier, when she had let go of the resentment she felt toward her partner. That shift was from triggered to centered; this shift was from attachment to liberation. That time, an enemy image was dissolving; this time, a reactive pattern was dissolving—the pattern that had been creating her recurring enemy images of her partners.
In the following months, she noticed a change in her relationship with her partner. She still enjoyed receiving compliments, but she didn’t get triggered when a stretch of time went by without them. And it was easier for her to notice and appreciate the many other ways that he expressed his love and care for her.
Over the years, she had many opportunities to practice feeling her feelings when she was triggered. Each time, she got a bit more free of attachment and reactivity. Time passed, and she grew older, day by day. Then one night in a dream, a young woman appeared before her, asking for advice.
(This story is fictional, but I hope it rings true for you.)