Is there a gift in that bad feeling?

Do your emotions get the best of you? Does fear, anger, sadness, or guilt overwhelm you, at times? Do you even wish, sometimes, that you didn’t have to deal with feelings at all?

Feelings, even the sucky ones, are an essential key to living well, and being able to respond rather than react is a sign of emotional intelligence. Some people are over-reactive, while others are barely in touch with their feelings. Very often children learn to “suck it up” or “stuff it.”  How many of us have heard “stop you’re crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”? In my generation, quite a lot.

We know that stuffing it has a price to pay. So, being able to feel the feeling and let it go, or regulate[1] the emotional charge, is the only way to go. Once you can do that you can look at feelings a bit differently – even the bad ones.

Anger, sadness, regret, fear…these are gifts no less valuable than love, contentment and joy. Each of these feelings provides information. Each says I am fully alive, in my experience. Take notice. Pay attention!

Anger says, “Something is wrong here. This needs to change.”
Sadness says, “I lost something important, something meaningful.
Guilt and regret say, “I didn’t do my best; I’m sorry.”
Fear says, “There is danger here; I don’t feel safe.”

Then there’s empathy, which allows us to feel for others: anger at injustice, sadness for another’s loss. These feelings can then motivate us to speak out or offer support.

There is a price to pay for ignoring what we feel. Our feelings are messages, they tell us what is going on in the moment. They are transient, meant to last only long enough for us to get the message. Emotional feelings are no different than physical ones in that they tell us what’s going on. If I feel cold, I need to get a sweater or get more active; if thirsty, I need water. If I feel angry, I need to look at what’s happening and make a change, when possible. The Serenity Prayer can help in those moments:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

When we feel angry, sometimes the thing we have to change is us. To do that it helps to change how you look at the situation, and then change the mental loop running through your brain.

For a feeling to persist, it must be fed. If what you are feeling is unpleasant, there are ways to shift into a different state, a different feeling. Once you get the message from the original feeling, you can let it go.  We are only held captive by uncomfortable feelings when we feed the thoughts that support them.[2]

Change your mind, change your body.

It’s also important to understand that some feelings can be triggered by something which reminds us of a past trauma. A trigger can be something as simple as the tone of a voice, a look, or a phrase. When there is significant trauma, loosening the hold of a trigger may need professional guidance and support.

I also want to offer a special note about grief, which is a cluster of feelings related to loss. The deeper the love, the more painful the loss. Grieving is a process that involves going through a range of varied feelings. Time is necessary to heal the pain; the scar remains. This is a longer discussion for another time.

The next time you have a bad feeling, take a moment to breathe and find the message inside. the feeling may leave quicker than you think.

If you struggle with your emotions, or they are too big to unpack alone, call Meg at 610-504-4830.

[1] Think of a time you were really excited about something and had trouble falling asleep. It can be hard to let go of a good feeling. Ask any 8-year-old.

[2] You may have heard the story of the Cherokee grandfather who told his grandson he had two wolves at war inside him, one that was loving and kind, the other was angry and vengeful. The child asked which would win. “The one I feed,” said the grandfather. It’s a good allegory, but it’s not from the native peoples. Here’s a blog about the origin: http://apihtawikosisan.com/2012/02/check-the-tag-on-that-indian-story/