So often we instinctively recoil from uncomfortable emotions, thinking that we either shouldn’t be feeling them or that we cannot handle them. The truth is that we’re meant to have a broad range of emotions. The key lies in not judging our feelings and paying attention to what they might be telling us – which might at times include erroneous beliefs about ourselves, other people, and our options.
Anger may show us what we’re passionate about, what we will not tolerate, or where we feel threatened.
Anxiety may show us where we feel powerless, unprepared to deal with a situation, or that something in our life is out of balance.
Fear may show us what we really care about.
Apathy may show us that we’re feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.
Often our feelings result from our thoughts and beliefs, so once we’ve allowed ourselves to experience, label, and investigate our feelings, we can consider what we’ve been telling ourselves and then consider whether or not our beliefs are accurate and helpful. At times our feelings are appropriate and helpful responses to our experiences.
However, on some occasions we may cause ourselves unnecessary suffering through our interpretations of what’s happening in and around us. Ask yourself, “What triggered me? Why do I feel this way? What am I assuming? What is the evidence for my belief?”
For example, we may tell ourselves, “I can’t go to that party”, “I can’t talk with that person”, or I can’t study for three hours tonight”, all of which can lead us to feel powerlessness or incompetent, with shame or anxiety as a result. Maybe the truth is that we simply don’t want to do these things.
By changing our explanatory language to “I choose not to attend that party”, “I’d rather not talk with that person”, or “I won’t study for three hours tonight”, we empower ourselves. Whatever our decisions are, once we own them we are likely to feel more confident, even if we choose to make different choices in the future.
Another example is when we tell ourselves, “This is terrible”. What we’re going through may indeed be unfortunate or tragic, and we wouldn’t want to minimize the magnitude of our experience nor make excuses for egregious behavior on anyone’s part. However, when we add the belief that “this is a learning experience”, our pain is often joined by a sense of empowerment and the intention to extract whatever wisdom and strength we can from our situation.
If we’ve fallen into the habit of thinking, “I’m never satisfied”, this can be a recipe for dejection and apathy. However, if we take the perspective that “I want to learn and grow”, then our frustration or boredom with our life can be the fuel for our pursuing new projects, relationships, and lifestyle choices. Once again, noticing our feeling of discontent (awareness) is the first step, after which we can look at what we’re telling ourselves about the matter, and if warranted, make constructive adjustments.
Our feelings are powerful messengers. Listen to them.
You are never without options.
Sometimes a shift in perspective can make a world of difference.