Same four letters – two different outcomes.
When we notice an emotional state that’s uncomfortable, we have two choices; FEEL the feelings or FLEE the feelings.
As in most of life, there is not a single solution for every situation. There will be situations when allowing the feelings to flow freely could result in catastrophic outcomes. In those (hopefully) rare situations, the healthy response is to avoid the feelings – to shut them off somehow.
Most of the time though, feeling our feelings doesn’t threaten our well-being, it just evokes a lack of comfort or an absence of ease. Unpleasant feelings aren’t necessarily fun, but the truth is they won’t harm us. Avoiding the feelings, on the other hand, by repressing them, stuffing them, or drowning them with a familiar “coping” mechanism can be unhealthy, painful to self and others, and even lethal.
Avoidance of feelings fills the headlines with drama and trauma every day. When we stifle, deny, or avoid our feelings, they fester and grow in size, scope, and intensity. We can give feelings greater toxic power by avoiding them.
I speak frequently and write occasionally about the three steps I try to take when I realize that I am feeling an unpleasant emotion. I have by no means mastered this practice, but I am a masterpiece in progress. Below are the three steps, one of which I’ve already mentioned in the previous paragraph. If the situation allows, declare the three truths aloud.
- This feeling (naming the feeling may be helpful) has no power to harm me.
Feelings have no substance, neither mass, nor volume. They are an idea that we experience with our bodies, thoughts translated into sensations.
2. This feeling will pass.
Feelings pass or change. Feelings are temporary. And as Vincent Gardenia reminded Cher in the 1987 classic, Moonstruck, “Everything is temporary!” (see the clip below and considering indulging in this great movie!)
3. This feeling is known by others.
Most times, this truth is the most powerful for me. The moment I say, “Paul knows what it’s like to feel anxious,” I can sense the anxiety loosening or the hopelessness brightening. And while the three truths may not eliminate all unpleasant feelings, they definitely help me bear the feelings. I can accept the feelings and sit with unpleasant feelings without rushing to find a counterfeit “solution” to them.
Feelings are in our lives for reasons – some of which we may never fully comprehend. Try leaning into the next unpleasant feeling with curiosity rather than trying to figure out how to make it go away. Maybe you need to reconcile a conflict. Perhaps there’s a confession or an apology you need to make to be free from feelings of guilt. Maybe you need to forgive someone (may it’s you!) Those would be possible “cures” for some negative feelings. They might actually put those feelings to rest for keeps! And there will be feelings we simply need to accept. (Don’t fret, they can’t hurt you, they won’t last forever, and you’re not alone in those feelings.)
As always, I thank you for taking good care of you! You’re a masterpiece (masterpeace?) in progress, and the fact that we’re even trying to progress, sets us apart from most folks who are adrift in the sea of feelings, waiting for the next breeze. Stay in touch and stay on course.