November 3, 2011

Feelings Are Just Feelings!

One of the things I’ve noticed when working with my clients is that there is a strong desire to understand how to reach a place of what many call “emotional balance.” What I think many people really want is way to experience and express feelings without becoming overwhelmed or stuck.

Yet, in many ways, I think our relationship to feelings has become a bit too lenient. We often hear people say, “Well, if that’s how you feel …” – as if whatever comes after that is necessarily fine, good, or true. I’d like to challenge this idea and offer some alternative ways to understand, relate to, and utilize our feelings.

First of all, here are a few things to know about feelings (adapted from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Feelings are neither right nor wrong – only actions can be judged that way.
  • Feelings are affected by how we think – negative thoughts produce negative feelings.
  • Feelings are often mixed – rarely do you experience one feeling at a time.
  • Feelings can be expressed in different ways – there is no one right way, each person has his/her own style.
  • Feelings do not lose their intensity by being buried, even for a long time. They must be worked through to lose their punch.
  • Feelings should not dictate our lives. Instead, what we have given our word to – integrity – should guide our decisions.
Let’s take a closer look at this list. The first thing to notice is that we should not judge our feelings or experience shame or guilt because we have a particular feeling. Essentially feelings arise for a variety of factors – from the biological, to the circumstantial, some would even argue with the cycle of the moon! So, feelings happen – sometimes terrible, I want to hide under a rock feelings. Yet, if we are to mature into our feelings and manage ourselves, our focus needs to be on the actions that follow feelings rather than trying to eradicate the feeling altogether. For example, if you feel scared in a relationship – that’s okay. If you feel scared and then behave miserably towards the other person in the hopes of pushing them away, not so okay! We need to take responsibility for how we act in response to our feelings.

Now, I’m sure the second point – feelings are affected by how we think – doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you. The more our minds focus on the negative, the more our feelings will follow suit – creating a not so fun loop.

Furthermore, positive feelings “improve our cognitive capacities while we are in safe situations, allowing us to build resources around us for the long term. That's in marked contrast to the effects of negative emotions like fear, which focus our attention so we can deal with short-term problems. ‘Positive feelings change the way our brains work and expand the boundaries of experience, allowing us to take in more information and see the big picture’” (“How Not to Be Happy”, by Dan Jones). Essentially, the more positive emotions you experience, the bigger your bank account is that you can draw upon when things get hard. Positive emotions help you see things broadly while negative emotions create a pinpoint focus. This can, of course, be very useful at times, but not if we fall into a spirally downward cycle of negativity.

Finally, we need to remember that feelings are just feelings – they should not dictate our decisions, mostly because feelings are so fleeting! In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says,
“’the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ … Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.”
Too often we make decisions about whether to stay in a relationship, whether to stay at a job, whether to keep our commitment for a dinner party based on our feelings. “I just don’t feel like it,” seems to be a get out of jail free card. What happens to our word – our integrity – when we are constantly buffeting about because of our emotions? It falls apart.

How many relationships end because the initial intense feelings subside and people think, “Hm, I must not be in love anymore”? How many times do we say no to an opportunity, because we feel afraid? How many times do we bounce from job to job seeking a fresh high?

Now, lest you label me a hater of feelings, let me be clear that I’m not deriding the important role that feelings play in our decision making process. Again, it’s about balance. Until you learn to make balanced decisions, not letting your feelings be the dictators of your actions is a good rule of thumb to follow.

By focusing on what promise we have made, what word we have given, we can bolster our ability to follow through, to step into, to show up when our feelings would have us do otherwise.

  • What feelings have you been judging as being bad or wrong?
  • Instead of judging your feelings, what behaviors, responses to your feelings should you instead focus on?
  • How full is your bank account of positive feelings? What could you do to increase your balance?
  • What opportunities, experiences have you missed out on because your feelings got in the way?
  • What have you recently been giving your word to but not following through on because of your feelings?
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  1. Well said, Rachel. Feelings are worth listening to and being aware of because they often inform us of important things. Yet, we are to be the master of our feelings rather than the other way around. As we learn to stay centered and live from our core, authentic self, we are able to both honor our feelings and not allow them to rule us.

  2. Just when I was 'blanked-out' you posted this on Linked--just what a client needed
    Thanks for sharing all the good stuff you do share!

  3. You really did a good job Rachel! It's indeed an interesting topic. I do agree with you. Feelings is important but you have to train your feelings wisely. Sometimes you feel something for that someone but on the next day it's gone. As they said feelings may fade away immediately. So be careful with your feelings.

  4. I really enjoy reading and also appreciate your work.

    adult feelings & positive feelings & HAPPINESS and FUN


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