Updated: Jul 17
I have a confession to make: I am an emotional person. That's not to say that I'm overly dramatic or prone to fits of hysteria; in fact, my family has now seen me as fairly level-headed and unemotional as they think I used to be. But even though it's not obvious to them or anyone else around me, I've always been an emotional person at heart—and that's perfectly fine!
Most of us realize that actions have consequences.
Most of us realize that actions have consequences. The more you act on your emotions, the more they will control your actions and cause negative results.
But what about feelings? Do we ever think about how our feelings affect us? I mean, sure--we all know that being sad can make us act differently than when we're happy. But do we ever stop to consider whether those feelings are real?
Emotions aren't something that just happens to us; they're things we create ourselves by thinking about things in certain ways. If you think about it this way, then it makes sense why some people might seem "unemotional" or "cold" because they haven't created any real emotions yet!
We may also recognize that feelings are meant to be had and felt.
Feelings are meant to be felt.
A friend sent me a video about the broad use of psychotropics (medications that can stabilize and often numb our feelings). She asked me about the content of the video, and I explained to her that, yes, we have been trained to believe that feelings are bad and we shouldn't feel them. Ultimately, people come to me saying, "I'm on Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Buspar, Abilify, and a sleep aid-and I still can't control how I feel." First off, that's a lot of meds. I'm not a doctor, nor a psychiatrist, but when I hear about the medication that keeps getting piled on, I want to scream at the doctors-the pills aren't the answer, (at least not on their own)!
Feelings are not a choice; they just happen. They're normal, even if they make us uncomfortable or embarrassed. And there's nothing wrong with feeling them again THEY ARE AUTOMATIC--it doesn't make you weak or stupid or bad at parenting your kids (or anything else), even if other people might tell you otherwise.
But we often believe that feelings are a choice or that we should try not to have certain ones.
We think that feeling sad means we're weak or that being angry means we've failed at life. But feelings aren't good or bad--they just exist. They're part of the human experience, and there's nothing wrong with them until...we behave in a way that hurts us more because of the feeling.
Feelings are normal and natural; everyone has them! Feelings can also be helpful in guiding our behavior and decision-making processes in life (e.g., "I feel sad sometimes because I miss my dad who lives far away from me now," which might lead me to decide to visit him soon). When you notice yourself having a negative emotion like sadness or anger, try not to judge yourself for feeling this way--instead, consider how best to express those constructively so they don't get stuck inside your body like poison does when it gets trapped inside its container instead of being released.
The more you try to suppress or avoid them, the stronger they get. And, then, we are stuck in some tough behaviors.
Trying to avoid, numb, or suppress your feelings is a lot like holding back the tide with your bare hands. The more you try, the stronger they get. When you're having an intense feeling and want nothing more than for it to go away immediately so that life can continue as normal (or at least according to your definition of normal), remember that this is actually one of those occasions when letting things happen naturally is preferable--even if they don't go in line with what we want from life all the time. When we allow ourselves space for our natural emotions, we often find that there's something valuable about them after all.
There's a Next Step
You rode the wave of the feeling; you held off on the avoidance, numbing behavior, etc. Then you carefully look at the thought behind it.
You see, most of us NEVER think about the thought behind our automatic feeling and the behavioral consequence. But, truly, the driver behind it all is our thoughts. They have often been festering in the most primal deepest parts of our minds, and they're typically untrue, irrational, or no longer serve us. But, if you can untangle those thoughts and work to reframe them, feelings aren't as intense, and you're finding some power over your behaviors.
So watch out for creating fear around your feeling.
You will end up feeling much worse than if you had let yourself feel the feeling in the first place.
This is because when we try to suppress or avoid our emotions or try to deaden them, like with alcohol, food, or sex, our bodies remember that we did it. The more we do this, the more our body remembers it as an option and starts looking for ways to get those feelings out of us--even if they're not good ones and in the same negative behavior-way! So when something happens that triggers a negative feeling within you, instead of ignoring it or trying to push away how you feel (which sometimes works), allow yourself time and space for those feelings so they don't build up inside until they come out in other ways (like yelling at someone).
There are also ways to manage your emotions so they don't overwhelm you or cause problems in your life.
Learn techniques to help you manage your emotions. You can learn how to recognize your triggers and respond to them rather than avoid them, cope with them, and manage them.
If you notice that certain situations make you feel angry or sad, try talking about those feelings with someone who cares about you. That way, the situation won't seem as scary anymore because now there's someone else who knows about it too!
Try writing down what happened when something made you feel bad so you can figure out why it happened. Name the emotion accurately; what behavior came? Then, do the tough investigation; what was the thought behind that emotion?
You come home from work sad. But is it sad? Take a minute to really name the feeling. Maybe you feel unsure. Then sit with the feeling. You're used to avoiding it; remember, it's a feeling; it can't actually hurt you. Then, investigate what is making you feel unsure. Looking through your day, you realize it was a really tough day at work. Then, what's the thought? This is the tough part. You must be honest with yourself and what is being thought of. Maybe, the thought is saying; I'm not good enough.
Oopf. No wonder we look to avoid and numb.
But is it true?
I don't believe anyone is not good enough. I believe this is a faulty belief that exists based on our personal narratives, family structures, and more.
Knowing what triggers your feelings and emotions is the first step to managing them.
When you are aware of the effect of your feelings on your behavior, it helps prevent unwanted reactions from happening at the moment. If someone says something that upsets or infuriates me, I try not to react right away because I know my emotions might get the best of me if I don't take time for myself before responding in an appropriate way later on (i.e., after taking a break from stressful situations).
It's also important for us as human beings, living with other human beings who are also living with other human beings...it can get pretty overwhelming sometimes and messy. So recognizing when we're feeling overwhelmed helps us take steps towards improving our situation at hand by addressing issues before they escalate into bigger problems later down the road.
Closing It Out
So, the next time you feel like something is wrong or off-kilter in your life, don't try to suppress those feelings. When we suppress, we turn to avoidance and numbing, and the behaviors that can come after that can have terrible effects on our life (i.e., alcoholism, ruptured marriages, and more). Instead, accept them as automatic feelings about situations around you. Take a breath. Acknowledge the feeling, name it accurately, then investigate the driver behind the feeling.
If you're struggling with understanding the thoughts that drive your feelings and behaviors, I want you to know that there is hope. By working together through counseling, we can explore the root causes of your challenges and develop strategies to overcome them. I promise to provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to share your thoughts and emotions and to support you every step of the way. Together, we can untangle your mind and create a brighter future where you can confidently face life's challenges.