Depending on what your experiences have been, the idea that everything happens for a reason and is part of your learning can in itself feel unfair. To be honest I think that only you can decide the ‘meaning’ of any event in your life and it’s no-one else’s place to label, judge, dismiss, or interpret your experiences.
I love feelings, probably an obvious statement for someone who works in the emotional well-being field. But there’s a really good reason why I love emotions and feelings – they are our internal guide telling us how life is ‘working’ for us.
We all have emotions. We all have this internal guide. That’s the easy part – it comes built in. But how many of us listen to our feelings? How many of us know what to do with these feelings?
Like so many things in society we want to throw out the source because we don’t know what to do with the consequences or outcomes of them. When it comes to our feelings we think ‘I don’t like feeling like this that must mean feelings are bad!’
No matter how much we try not to feel, we fail. No matter how much we try to rename our feelings, we fail to stop feeling the original emotion. No matter what we do, we continue to feel.
Feelings are a Gift
This has to mean something significant. I think that significance is, that feelings are a gift. They are there to help lead us towards finding solutions if they are uncomfortable feelings and enjoying them if they are in fact, enjoyable.
Have you ever heard someone say, ‘I’m feeling too good something must be about to go wrong?’ And when everything is going wrong, they declare ‘I don’t know why everything is always so terrible in my life.’
The Brain and Emotions
There are two parts of our brains set up for fear – the amygdala and the reticular activating system. Every experience we have is filtered through these to assess if we are in danger or there is a potential risk to our safety and well-being. It’s natural for us to have fears when these two systems control our thoughts.
But we also have the frontal cortex of our brain that provides logical and rational thoughts balancing out the immediate fear response from the amygdala. Learning to sit with our feelings and manage them empowers us to use our emotions as a guide rather than being controlled by them.
We aren’t born with the ability to rationalise our feelings. Children are very emotional and respond with intensity to the events going on in their lives. The brain neurons are still forming until we are 25 years old. The final stage of our brain development at 25 is our ability to make wise, balanced, informed decisions. Around the age of 13 our brains have formed enough neurons into the left hemisphere and frontal cortex that the young teenager shifts from the emotional child to thinking in adult terms – the ability to rationalise their feelings.
While this is a great step forward too often the ability to rationalise our feelings really ends up meaning cutting off from our feelings. We don’t know what to do with them. As a child we vented in anger or burst into tears and were punished, praised, or rewarded accordingly.
With this new ability to think about how we feel we have half the ability to manage our emotions effectively. What we need to learn next is – what is the message in our feelings?
The Message in our Feelings
If we don’t learn this second part of the equation, we are only left with the ability to rationalise, deny, suppress, or repress our emotions. That’s what unlearned thinking creates when applied to our feelings. Personally, I don’t think much good in the world comes from this. I think it is the source of evil acts, the cause of personal suffering, and global wars. That might sound dramatic, but I really do believe that if we stay connected to our feelings, listen and learn from them then we will be compassionate, empathic, and loving towards others, as well as ourselves, animals and the earth in general.
As Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, “I have a dream…”
There are lots of techniques and remedies that can help you interpret your feelings – meditation, Empowered Tapping, journaling, flower essences, homoeopathics, and so forth. What matters is that you use them to help you feel empowered by your feelings.
Here are some guiding insights to help you on your way:
In the Dance of Anger, Harriet Goldhor-Lerner stated that anger indicates something is wrong in our life – that we are not having our needs met, or we are giving up too much of ourselves for others or doing too much for others at our and their expense. The next time you feel angry, annoyed, rebellious, hostile, resentful or even rage ask yourself:
What needs do I have right now that aren’t being met?
What am I giving up to please or appease another that I really don’t want to be giving up?
What am I doing for someone else because I think it’s helpful or loving or the right thing to do but I’m not feeling good doing it?
Identity Anger is triggered when how we are being treated is disrespectful and violates our core sense of worth and dignity. This kind of anger is felt with indignation and declarations that what we are experiencing is unfair and unjust.
Fear can be felt as nervousness, anxiety, agitation, worry, concern, panic or being fretful, scared, and so forth. In Making Sense of the Insensible I talk about procrastination, indecision, idleness, the Peacemaker, and the creation of a sacrificial mentality all relating to our lessons of the emotion fear and its corresponding need to feel safe. We need to feel safe physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually. Whenever you feel any emotion on the fear continuum ask yourself where are you feeling unsafe in your life right now?
We have a strong need to feel ‘good enough’ within ourselves and the eyes of others. Whenever we are feeling inadequate or insufficient, we will discover our self-talk telling us that we are pointless, worthless, a waste of space, bad, and even an embarrassment. When we are feeling powerless, like a victim, helpless, and hopeless, as if we need someone else to take care of us we are experiencing our insufficiency mentality. Ask yourself how do I feel like I’m not good enough right now?
Sadness can appear to be a challenging emotion to deal with because it is often easy to put on the mask of a happy person and deny the sense of loss that underpins your daily life. While many undealt emotions will lead to being depressed, in society there appears to be a stronger correlation between grief, loss, bereavement, sorrow, and sadness with being depressed. For the purpose of working with your emotions to empower yourself, dealing with sadness as it arises is vital. Ask yourself who or what do I value and feel like I have lost from my life?
No matter how much we try to be islands, self-sufficient, and self-contained we need people in our lives to enrich our experiences. Friends, family, partners, colleagues, and a sense of community are all vital for us to feel connected and belong. When we feel lonely it stems from the absence of meaningful relationships in our lives. The emphasis here is that they meet our needs for connection and belonging. We may know many people but not feel like we belong to anyone. It really is possible to feel lonely in a crowded room. This is very different from being alone. So, when the emotion lonely appears in your world ask yourself how do I feel like I am not having meaningful relationships with the people in my life?
There are many other emotions, what is important to remember is that they are all telling you something about your world. Your task is to listen and figure out what’s not working for you and what is.
Action is Vital
Just recognising the trigger to the emotion won’t magically make your life better. The third part of the process is to then take some action to change the situation that is causing the unpleasant emotion. What can you DO that will change how you feel for the better? Take ACTION! That’s how we experience being powerful in our own lives.
What is your favourite way to make sense of your feelings? How has it felt to deal with the unmet need or want or desire triggering the emotion?