We live in a culture that wants us to be in touch with our feelings. We’re encouraged to lay ourselves open so we can examine every nuance, every tone, every chord of our emotional states. We have cheerleaders–from celebrities to magazine articles to self-help gurus–to tell us our feelings are the truest part of us, to exhort us to listen to ourselves, to let it all out.
Can I offer an antidote to all this emotionalism?
Don’t. Don’t put feelings first. Don’t let them reign supreme in your life. Don’t let them control you.
See, I’ve been there. I’ve listened to my feelings, I’ve dived deep in them, swam in them, rolled in them, wallowed in them. I’ve held pity parties in my head, and invited all my emotions to come hang out and be loud and tell me what they really really
It’s not pretty.
Feelings are valid, but they are not always right. Feelings are ephemeral, fly-by-night, dependent on body chemistry and external circumstances.
Feelings, if you let them, can sap your will, overrule your mind, and sabotage your dreams. I’m tired, they whine, I’ve had a hard day. I deserve to sit down with my feet up and watch Numb3rs all evening. Or, No one’s called me in three days. They don’t love me. They don’t appreciate me. Or, How come she got published, and not me? She’s a no-talent hack. Or, I’m just a failure. Nothing ever goes right for me. I’m unlucky, misunderstood, underappreciated. I need a chocolate truffle.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting we find the Emotions Off switch and flip it. Because we are not robots, and emotions are an important part of us. Often, emotions are symptomatic of underlying problems. Hey, I’m sad all the time. Maybe I need medical help or I’m angry a lot. I need to find a way to deal with the stress in my life. We need to deal with our feelings in a healthy way, not let them rampage all over our lives.
Stewing in ones own emotional juices just leads to a funk. I speak from experience.
So, how to deal with strong feelings? Here’s what I’ve learned from years of internal conflict with moodiness and negative emotions.
Recognize where particular feelings come from. Tiredness, stress, hunger and other physical conditions can magnify our emotions (as a parent, I am very familiar with this). Earlier in our marriage, I kept my poor long-suffering husband up wayyyyy too late some nights, detailing every nuance of my feelings of failure, inadequacy, and sense of being slighted. It didn’t matter what he said; I was determined to wallow in my exhaustion-magnified misery. If only a divine voice had spoken up and told me to shut up and go to bed. Funny how things always looked so much better in the morning.
Talk to ourselves, instead of just listening to ourselves. Let reason assert itself over the emotions sometimes. I know, reason gets a bad rep these days, but sometimes you do have to give yourself tough love. You do have to tell yourself that you are being unfair and kinda of a jerk for being jealous of someone else. You do have to say “Too bad” when your feelings complain that they just neeeeed and deseeeerve to kick back and relax, instead of work on that story.
Find something else to do. Spinning wheels, going around the same emotional track over and over again, is not helpful. If you can’t deal with the situation that caused the feelings in the first place, or they are beyond your control, do something else. Sometimes we can deal with feelings by just changing out circumstances. It might mean unplugging from the Internet, if a volatile issue is making you see red. Go outside and talk a walk. Exercise. Meditate. Do the dishes. Whatever you can to clear your mind and subside the raging rapids that is your emotional state.
Do you find yourself giving far too much airtime to your emotions? How do you cope?