A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about believing what you think. The point of the blog was that people have thoughts all of the time that aren’t really true. For example, people who fear public speaking might think that if they speak in front of a group of people their voices might shake and people will think they are fools.
Today, I want to discuss feelings. This subject is a bit more complex because you’ve probably been told that all feelings are okay. And that people feel what they feel. Sometimes, that’s true. But feelings can also get in the way of people’s happiness.
Let’s start with the feeling of anger. Anger is an emotion that helps people stay safe. Parents’ get angry when someone threatens their children. Anger increases attention to threats. However, when people get angry too often or over small things, anger can become quite destructive.
Indulge me for a moment in what may sound like a diversion. This morning, I was at the gym walking around the track. It’s just a little track about 1/16 of a mile and maybe three feet wide. Most people walk around the track between exercise sets or during a warm up or cool down. A few people jog.
So, this morning I’m walking around the track and I see a guy running. Three people are walking in front of him and obviously don’t notice that he’s behind them. Well, this guy looks angry. Really angry—he kind of yells at the three people on the track who are still not noticing him. Then, unbelievably, he kind of pushes through between two of the people with a look of utter loathing on his face.
The question is, does this guy have the right to be angry? Well, if feelings are always true, then of course he does. But, is his anger helpful to him? Does his anger protect him of his loved ones? No. Can he change his feelings? Yes, he can.
You might wonder how. He could do it by changing the thinking that led to his outburst. Thoughts that someone in his position could easily have include, “People have no right to get in my way,” “I’m running and they are walking, so they should clear out and get off the damn track!” or “Stupid people; they should pay better attention!” And you could easily argue that these thoughts could have an element of truth in them.
However, they’re a tad extreme and lead to anger or rage which can either provoke a fight or simply harm the health of the angry person if he feels this way often (and he probably does if he gets so upset over something so trivial). Alternative, more useful thoughts could include, “I wish people would pay more attention,” “Maybe I could be clearer in letting the people in front of me know I’m coming,” or “If I really want to go jogging without other people slowing me down, maybe I’d be better off doing it outside or somewhere else.”
So, just because you feel something, doesn’t make it true. More often than not, intense negative feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, or rage are brought on by distortions in people’s thoughts. As a fortune cookie I recently saw said, “All personal breakthroughs begin with a change in beliefs.”
Seriously, I saw that from a fortune cookie!
Angry man photo available from Shutterstock.