“One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”
Most people consider that quote above to be truth. There is a prevailing belief that our feelings are something that blows through the wind like dandelion fluff, hard to grasp and impossible to control. We wake up, stick our finger to the wind of our emotions and pray for a good day, hoping for the sun to shine in the window of our heart.
It doesn’t have to be that way. While hormones,chemistry, diet and health do have a role to play in emotional health, there is a great deal we can do to be more intentional about our feelings.
It All Begins With Awareness
Before you can gain control over your emotions, the first step is to become aware of what you are feeling in the first place. Many people are experts at stuffing their emotions away with the use of vices, such as food, alcohol, drugs, TV and social media. So much so, that if you asked them how they are feeling at any exact moment, they might shrug their shoulders and say, “I dunno, frustrated, I guess.” And they might be. But they haven’t really taken the time or energy to dig a little further to discover what is underneath the frustration.
In order to dig deeper, you first need more awareness of what you are feeling in the first place. This doesn’t mean you have to take ACTION on those feelings, only that you need to be consciously aware of what they are. Warning: This can be a big step, and often an overwhelming one if you have been stuffing your emotions for a very long time. Recovering emotional eaters share countless stories about how they were rocked to their core when they uncovered all of the hidden emotions they had been blocking with food. Be gentle with yourself if your new-found awareness is overpowering. Journaling helps, as does sharing some of these emotional barrages with a trusted friend. Try not to act on these new emotions as there is a good chance they may be fleeting, or related to old issues that aren’t a part of your current situation right now. Let them come up, like dirt in the garden as a new seed pushes forth. You are creating something brand new, and bringing up some old dirt is a natural part of the process. Be patient, it will wash away the more you get used to noticing your emotions.
Acknowledging the Choice
The second step is the realization that we CAN CHOOSE our thoughts, which in turn plays a very strong role in our emotions and feelings. I have often heard variations on, “I can’t help it if I think that… it’s just what I think, what am I supposed to do about it?” Believers of this thought process are choosing to be victims of their own minds, held captive to the random thoughts perpetrated by belief systems they may not have even chosen for themselves. Old tapes running through our minds have been there so long, ingrained at such an early age, that when the tapes start playing, we don’t even notice they are there. And yet- those old tapes are holding us hostage and keeping us from creating the life we want to have.
How do we escape?
Asking ourselves a series of questions can help us to sharpen the awareness that will create that change.
How Do I feel Right Now? Try to move beyond vague generalizations such as tired, hungry, frustrated, and mad. Dig a little deeper. I feel judged, worried, picked on, rejected, lost, confused, overwhelmed… find words that can help you narrow down the reasons behind the emotions.
Do I WANT to Feel This Way? If the emotions are negative ones, your knee-jerk reaction might be, “Of course I don’t, you bone-head, who would WANT to feel terrible?” But wait, hold on. We invest a lot of time, energy and drama holding on to our emotions, especially when they are negative. Think about it: When you are in a rotten mood and someone tries to lift you out of it, how receptive are you to their attempts? Do you snarl when they suggest some peaceful meditation might be a good idea, or that things might not be as bad as they seem? Do you think, “That’s not really helpful right now, why don’t you just leave me ALONE!!!”
If you do, don’t feel bad. It’s pretty normal. Even in nature, it isn’t a great idea to try to pet an angry animal. Once the emotions are on high scream alert, it isn’t an easy task to try a smiley face rewind. However, if you can get a grip on yourself long enough to ask the question, Do I WANT to feel this way? Chances are that there will be enough reason in there for common sense to start talking you down from the ledge yourself. At least enough for others to come in to help if needed.
How Do I WANT to Feel? Once you have wrestled your errant emotions to the ground and reigned them in, the final piece to the puzzle is the proactive choice. How do you want to feel? For me, that answer is usually some version of: Serene, content, joyful, grateful, but you may have your own emotions you want to experience. Call them out by name. Then ask yourself one final question.
What Actions Do I Need to Take Right Now to Feel That Way? Now, one word of caution. This isn’t intended to be a license to create a huge To Do list. This is meant to help you find ONE ACTION STEP that you can do RIGHT NOW to move you closer to your goal. Just one. Then you can think of one more after that. Remember, our goal is teeny-tiny baby steps. Not overwhelm.
Learning to manage your emotions is a life-long practice. Don’t expect overnight success. There are many more tips and habits that can help to become adapt at being more aware of them. In another post, we will talk about more of those practices. But for now, I would love to hear from you. What other tips do you have to share about getting in touch with, and managing your feelings and emotions?