Feel Your Feelings
There’s a Renaissance of feeling. With good reason. After so long of being staunch, rigid, stoic, alienated, repressed, we’ve realized how damaging it can be to hold in or deny our feelings. When it seems like just about everyone I know aches from depression or anxiety, managing feelings becomes not only a task, but a necessity for life.
But at the same time, I’m suspicious of feelings. I know too well how they shut down that oh-so-important prefrontal cortex and devolve into the fight or flight of the amygdala. Every day I see someone hand down a judgment or make a decision to do something which isn’t in their best interest long term. They feel something, they act on it, it comes back to bite them. Or they use the excuse of “expressing their feelings” to say things which are damaging to others -like the priority of expressing their feelings negates the affect that expression has on others.
Or it’s the day in, day out act of living in the world where something happens which doesn’t work out and we’re lost in our feelings of self-doubt, guilt, shame and all those negative emotions that take us out of the game for real change.
Feel Your Feelings But Don’t Act on Them
I’m an Aries. One of my defining characteristics is my temper. I get hot and I do it quickly. But no matter how frustrated or annoyed I am, acting on that anger won’t help the situation. No matter what the problem, the solution is not biting anyone’s head off. In fact, that’s almost guaranteed to dig your hole even deeper than it already is. The solution to problems is action, not feeling.
That anger and frustration is the reptile brain, the ego flailing up saying “Me, me, me.” That’s what much of our emotion boils down to -the ego is hurt.
I don’t want to get too Buddhist crazy on you, but I think the key to feeling your feelings is letting go of the ego. This is where you say, “Well you’re one to talk!” In fact, I think I am because yes, I have a lot of experience in the area of being egotistical. It takes one to know one.
Clearly I’m not talking about depression or anxiety here. Even though I’m skeptical much of their prevalence isn’t caused by the dismal state of life in America, there’s actual medical data for what’s going on there. But for the rest of us typical mammals, controlling our emotions is using that big ol’ brain of ours. It’s okay to recognize that you’re hurt or angry, but does your solution consist of making yourself feel better or actually fixing the problem that got you there?
I see it all the time. Your flight gets delayed because of weather or instrument malfunction or it’s just late. You’re going to miss some meeting which is unfortunate, but what good does yelling at the ticket agent do? It makes you “feel” better, but it certainly makes her feel bad even if she’s trained enough not to show it. And does the yelling change your situation? Nope, you’re still stranded.
Or one of your employees does something incorrectly which makes you lose money. Unfortunate but not uncommon, and it’s not like they meant to. You snap and congratulations! You’ve sabotaged that relationship. You’ve taken a chance to teach and turned it into a loss of loyalty. It takes a long time to earn trust, but almost no time to lose it.
Or any of the small, overall meaningless things that people can be offended or upset over.
If You Don’t Act, What Do You Do?
Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but I have a lot of faith in people. I think, generally speaking, they want to do good. They want to help, and they’ll aim to do their best. I know it’s not always the case, but that’s what I have to believe to live. So if I operate with trust that people want to do well as my guiding principle, then anytime my desired outcome doesn’t happen, it’s because of fate or a misunderstanding. Fate you can’t fix so you shouldn’t worry about it, but misunderstanding you can repair.
So in that instance where it doesn’t work and the pressure is building, turn your brain off, breathe deep, and count to 10. It seems too simple, but it always helps. If you’ll just take a 10 second break away from the frustration, you can separate yourself from what you’re feeling to figure out what needs to be fixed. If you’re able to do it, you’ll be able to build it. Soon, you’ll be able to slide through your feelings like water.
This is Water
I don’t remember when I first encountered, the David Foster Wallace speech called “This Is Water”, but if you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know it’s one of my favorites. I come back to visit and whenever I’m feeling stressed. It helps me to remember that life is what you make it, and many of us do have the luxury to decide whether or not we’ll be angry, sad, frustrated or, at the very least, content and satiated.
Watch it once, watch it again and again all the time. And take away, “This, I submit, is the freedom of learning how to be well-adjusted: You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.”
We’ll probably never escape feeling our feelings. But we can escape being ruled by them.