Feelings are important, but sometimes they get in the way. I have found that the more time we spend talking about our feelings the less time we spend thinking about how to resolve them. If we dwell for too long on our emotions we risk becoming “emotionally indulgent” rather than action-oriented. Our emotions are like anything else that we feed too much; they just keep getting bigger and bigger. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to stay in touch with ourselves and identify our feeling state. It’s equally important, however, to process our feelings and work towards achieving a resolution.
For example, if I’m jealous that my girlfriend is spending time with her co-worker, I’m probably feeling threatened at some level. I may even tell her how I’m feeling hoping she will be sensitive to my feelings and stop spending so much time with someone else. If she doesn’t listen to me, I may try to make her wrong by saying she doesn’t care about how I feel. I may also withdraw to make her see how unhappy I am. I typically won’t, however, think the problem through and come up with a solution to my jealousy.
The key to finding out if our feelings are doing us a service is to evaluate whether or not they are proportionate to the situation. In the above example, my girlfriend wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was just hanging out with a co-worker. My reaction, on the surface, may have seemed reasonable enough; I wanted to spend more time with her. My feeling of jealousy, however, went deeper than that. As my jealousy persisted, it became disproportionate to what my girlfriend was actually doing. But why was I feeling jealous in the first place? The reasons vary. I could have had a bad experience with a former girlfriend. Likewise, I could have had a very selfish mother causing me to doubt the intentions of all women in relationships. Whatever the reason, one thing was clear; my feeling of jealousy was associated with the past because there was nothing in the present moment that should have made me jealous.
Feelings are often like that. We superimpose our old ideas, experiences and fears on top of current situations making the past and present feel the same. We tend to do this more when someone pushes our buttons, which activates our old feelings. My jealousy was activated when my girlfriend wanted to hang out with someone else. It reminded me of a previous experience I had that signaled the end of that relationship. Consequently, I began to anticipate the same outcome and responded with jealously born of old fears. It’s very difficult to get into a clear mental space when we keep littering our future with our residual junk.
Our feelings are also reinforced by our internal dialogue. Our endless inner chatter is often telling us that we are unlovable, inadequate, stupid, or worthless. The longer our inner voice persists, the more it shapes how we feel about ourselves. How many beautiful people do we know who feel they are ugly? In our rush to justify our feelings, we only look to confirm the conclusion of our inadequacy. I feel it therefore it must true, I think. Was my jealousy warranted? Probably not. It was only legitimate in terms of identifying my feeling state. Factually, my girlfriend wasn’t doing anything wrong. My feelings said otherwise. By the time I got to this point my feelings completely got in the way of my self-esteem. Although we will never stop talking to ourselves, we can all learn manage our emotions and negative self-talk better.
So, the next time your internal dialogue is peppering you with negativity remember that feelings are not facts, they are feelings. They reside deep within us and come upon us quickly. It’s easy to give into strong impulses and negative emotions, however, the more we give into them the stronger they become and the stronger they become the more they get in the way. Since feelings are internal experiences and not open to quantification, we often misinterpret them and make them into something more than what they are. Just because we feel deeply doesn’t mean we should act upon how we feel. Resolution comes when we restrain ourselves, in spite of having strong feelings, and exercise more discretion and judgment over our actions. Self-control over self-indulgence always leads to a better outcome. The result is a clearer path to our future and a better sense of well-being once we get there.
About the AuthorLarry Laveman, LCSW, BCD, is a Psychotherapist and Author in Solana Beach, California. His publications include topics on marriage counseling, supervision, mental health and spirituality. He is the former Chief Clinical Director for Harmonium, Inc., a community based nonprofit organization specializing in children, adolescents and families. You can find contact him via Google +, LinkedIn, or this website's contact page.