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Originally posted as: Feelings; they're in you to guide [October 2016]
Today we are going to talk about the "F" word… Feelings. It's interesting that feelings are the brunt of so many jokes – like only some of us have them or that they are optional in life. Feelings are a very important part of being human and processing them is a huge part of living a healthy and happy life.
This is an important topic to be aware of because if you've been taught to bury, ignore, negatively feed or reject your feelings – you have a very good chance of becoming ill, sabotaging your relationships, losing your self-control and draining your power.
Think about what you have been taught about feelings. For example, when you were young (and maybe even now) if you were sad you might have been told to: chin up; toughen up; focus on the positives; or distract yourself with happier thoughts. When you were mad you might have been told: smarten up/you're bad; don't be mad; focus on your breath; calm down; let it go.
We are told some of these things for good reason. Dwelling on our sadness and adding to it by coming up with all the things we feel entitled to be sad about, can make us miserable and no fun to be around. As well, allowing our anger to grow to a point of rage and letting it control our behaviour can definitely result in problems for us and for others.
The missing piece though, is that it is really our thoughts and not our feelings that are the problem in this situation, and in the end it is only our behaviour that gets us into trouble. Our feelings are signals, meant to suggest we check things out further before moving on. Ignoring or stuffing the signal is much like taking the battery out of the smoke alarm without checking why it's going off in the first place. If you deal with the cause, the detector will stop on its own.
It is our negative thoughts that take these signals and turn them into a full scale alarm.
This is unhealthy as it creates many over-reactions, hurt feelings and problems in a person’s life. The feeling of anger is seen as the problem culprit which is like blaming the burned building on the smoke detector.
Taking the battery out of the alarm defeats the whole purpose of having one. Letting it wail all the time doesn’t work well either. Learning how to recognize your feelings and process them in a healthy effective way is beneficial to all of us.
Where do you start?
Here's one fun way to try. Begin by noticing your feelings and searching for different words to describe them. For example – when someone asks you how you are feeling, you likely have a standard response such as; fine, great, good, tired, alright… Take a moment and think about your most common answers.
To play the game, you want to start digging deeper than that. If you really are fine/good or alright then you might respond with – content, relaxed, grounded, satisfied, balanced or mediocre. If you are great you could use; fabulous, empowered, strong, enlightened, eager, excited…
I'll post a list you can get off my site of different feeling words so if you don't have many in your vocabulary you can start finding new ones that suit you. My only rule is that you don't feel limited to the list.
The point is to start taking stock of your feelings so that you're really noticing them – rather than just going on autopilot and giving an answer that people expect.
If you choose to take on this challenge (let's say for the next week or two), try to use a different feeling word every time you respond to this question and you will be amazed at how people tune into you. "Did you say you are satisfied? Why – what were you up to last night?" to which you can have some fun and respond with more banter, "Wouldn't you like to know?" give real details, "Actually, I'm satisfied because I finished my paper last night for my course and today is the deadline," ….or give a brush off – "I appreciate you're asking how I am, but right now I don't think I want to share more than that about it."
You can also use this tool with your kids as a way to expand their feelings vocabulary, help them tune in to their feelings and get real conversation going around the dinner table. One way is to come up with a common lead in…"So…where are you at today?"
Be very careful to respect when a person doesn't want to elaborate on their feelings, even if your son just told you he's depressed. Responding with shock and interrogating him, "Depressed, why what happened…I can't believe this is the first I'm hearing about this!" can shut him down completely and tell him you are not a safe person to share feelings with.
Instead you can take it in stride and maybe clarify a little, "Ooh, that doesn't feel nice. Are you saying you're sad, like your spark has gone out or something else?"
It's possible your son has heard that word and now is trying it out…he could also be getting it confused with another word, like disappointed or he could be checking to see if you respond the same way the teacher did at school when Brittany said it.
By clarifying like this you help him understand it better, you make it easier for him to explore and you open the door for future feeling discussions. Refrain from any kind of 'closed door' reaction including challenges like, "Do you even know what that means?"
Finally, you can also use this as a way to explore and connect with other people. "You say you're fine, but you look a little…I don't know – disappointed maybe…did something happen?" Obviously if they say no, you let it drop, although you can do that while leaving the door open, "Fair enough, I apologize if it sounds like I was snooping – just concerned…let me know if you want to talk more."
You'll find that just by noticing your own feelings (digging deeper for meaning) that many of them will release on their own. When you say you are fine, when in reality you feel disappointed, you are stuffing the feeling. But when you say, "I'm kind of disappointed, but give me time and I'll get over it." You honor the feeling and allow it to flow. A little note about that one…it's perfectly fair to say something like, "I'm kind of disappointed, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet. I'll let you know when I am."
When we bury our feelings or pretend they don’t exist, we do not process them. This can result in problems later when the “burial site” gets too full and these past feeling begin to resurface.
I teach this to kids using a cup with water and reading a story of an average emotional day. As a group we identify anytime the hero of the story stuffs a feeling and add water to the cup. I don't stop adding when the cup is full, so the water begins spilling onto the floor. The kids are quick to catch on that the cup can only hold so much water and if you try to over-fill it a mess will result. When we carry around old, unprocessed emotions, we greatly increase the odds of overflowing.
Did you know the most commonly stuffed feelings are: nervousness, fear, embarrassment, hurt, surprise, humiliation, disappointment, frustration? How do we do this…by shifting immediately to anger rather than allow the real feeling to be expressed. Think about a time when you were embarrassed… how did you respond?
Feelings signal to us that something might be wrong so that we can investigate and deal with it accordingly. Unfortunately, many of us react to the discomfort of the feeling, and add some negative thoughts increasing their intensity and ensuring they stick to that memory forever.
So what can we do instead?
Here's one way to process your feelings…
Step #1: When a feeling arises, notice it without trying to stop it – your goal is to become the interested observer. Since the brain is on whether we want it to be or not, take control of your thoughts and direct them; I feel sad – where is that coming from? Or Uh-oh, I'm embarrassed because I didn't know the answer and now I'm covering it up by getting angry.
When a thought arises in response to this question search for inaccuracies. For example: I’m sad because I’m always left out of things or He asked me that question on purpose because he knew I wouldn't know the answer – he's trying to embarrass me.
If it’s faulty make an immediate correction. For example: okay, I’m not always left out, but I sure feel left out this time. Or Ego – sit! It's okay to make a mistake, isn't that what I'm always telling the kids?
Watch out for the temptation to feed the feeling instead: I always get left out of things… people don’t like me, it’s not fair, why am I always excluded? or He's such a jerk!
Step #2: When you say the thoughts aloud and they hurt, but are no longer faulty or never were faulty, like: I’m sad because my dog died or Okay, so he was trying to set me up – that hurts… let your thoughts subside and focus your attention on the feeling.
Notice where you feel the emotion in your body and put your hand on it (if you can). Relax by taking a few deep breaths to quiet your mind. If a thought surfaces anyway, move aside and let it sail on by.
Often, just doing this, will allow the feeling to release.
Other times you might need to deal with it with that person. "Todd, I feel like you knew I didn't know that answer and purposely asked it to make me look bad…was that your intention?" In this case, you can now have a real conversation with this person about what's going on.
Still other situations will have linked up to form a block or pattern. I'll share a pattern example in a moment, but for now let's just say, these take a bit more work to release, but removing them can truly change your life!
In some instances a feeling may keep reappearing. When grieving, for example, this is part of the healing process and if you release the feelings each time (rather than judge them or bemoan the fact you seem to be right back where you started) you’ll find the grieving journey flows more easily.
Alternatively, when you’ve been blocking your feelings and now allow them to flow, as soon as you deal with one feeling another old blocked one may arise. When this happens it’s not failure, but a cleaning that is long overdue.
One of the patterns I uncovered in my life involved my husband and housework. Throughout our marriage we shared a lot of the cleaning responsibilities (which I am truly grateful for), but there was no doubt that the way he looked at cleaning and the way I viewed it were very different things.
Somewhere along the line I started to feel resentful that he would go in and clean a room in 10 minutes and label it done. I would spend at least 45 minutes in the same room – not because I'm super slow, but because I'd put things away that shouldn't be in there, clean into every corner and leave the room spotless. In both situations the room looked and smelled great.
The other thing that started to bother me was that I often had to ask him to do any extra cleaning, or work around him while he sat relaxing on the couch. Now, please remember, this is how I was viewing things…not necessarily what you might see if our home was reality TV.
Over time, it became automatic and when I would start to clean, the second I noticed my husband sitting down, going outside to do something else, or simply not participating in the cleaning I would get a small surge of anger. With that, my inner critic would pipe up and start a conversation that went something like, "Great, guess I'm on my own, while he just relaxes. I'm not the only one who made this mess – I'm always cleaning up the messes. I could ask him to help, but he won't do a good enough job anyway."
As you can guess, this kind of thinking only intensified my anger, making my actions harsher – more clipped…sometimes resulting in me breaking things accidentally – which only made me angrier. And on it went.
When I became aware of my inner critic, I started consciously choosing to stop this conversation, but I found that much harder to do than expected. Now my inner dialogue sounded something like – "Great, guess I'm on my own." Stop it, you know he does a lot around here. "True, but look at the mirror – he just finished cleaning the bathroom and there's a big smear down it. Guess I have to everything myself." Quiet, I'm grateful he helped out, plus sometimes I miss things too.
Suddenly I'd realize that instead of stopping the dialogue, now I was just arguing with myself! I needed to change my tactics and thankfully I have tools to do that.
Several years ago I took one of Tony Robbins programs and in it he talked about 'scratching the record' when you feel yourself slipping into a pattern. In his example he threw a glass of water in a woman's face at an event to stop the pattern, but thankfully he says you can do it with anything that snaps you out of where you are headed and allows you to 'reset'.
So, in my case, I started scratching the record with singing, dancing, turning up the music, asking for help, laughing, creating a gratitude list in my mind while I work…believe it or not the pattern is still there (I have not yet damaged it enough to make it skip in a reliable way), but now, I'm fully aware of it and the moment I start down that path, I notice and correct.
One of the things that helped me identify this as a pattern rather than a relationship issue was when I tried to think about what I would ask my husband to do rather than sitting there. In most cases, he had already done what needed to be done (by him) and there was nothing more for him to do. If I needed his help still I knew I could ask for it – but in this case, the things that were left were things that only mattered to me (i.e. digging the dirt out of the corners).
If you think this is happening to you – i.e. you seem to be bothered by the same thing over and over again – you have created a pattern and the fact that you are becoming aware of it means it's time to let it go. I can help you with that if you like or you can try it on your own. Whatever you decide remember your goal is to release the emotion…not feed it, stuff it, ignore it, or talk yourself out of it.
Feelings are signals. They make us human and help us create an incredible life experience. So become aware of your emotions and enjoy the contentment that comes with letting feelings flow rather than grow.
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