Do you spend your days obsessing about your feelings? Well you might not, but many people do. Of course we all might feel happy or sad or angry or scared on any given day for a variety of reasons, but what about those who are afraid of people in general, certain situations, or the future? These people worry about many things that really aren’t in their control. Why, and what if they base the decisions they make and the behaviors they choose to engage in on those feelings? And what if they aren’t accurate?
Feelings aren’t facts. They may be based on experience, all of the experience one has had, but they are not factual in and of themselves. Just because a person feels a certain way doesn’t mean that feeling or the event it is associated with is fact. You know that person in your life who believes you did or said something that you really didn’t? And now they believe you don’t like them, and give you the death glare whenever they can? They are expressing their feelings as fact based on a misinterpretation, or worse, something that never happened.
Here’s a common one. “I hate my parents! They’re ruining my life!” Now does this teenage girl really hate her parents, or does she simply not like and appreciate the boundaries her parents have set and enforced for her? But what does she tell her friends? That her parents hate her, or her boyfriend, or her friends, or what they do, or what they wear. Or perhaps all of the above. Ok, yes, it was an extreme statement made during an emotional upset. But how often has she repeated the same line in her head reinforcing it, and said the very same thing to her friends who also reinforce the idea with their own faulty logic? Repetition can make for convincing proof when desperate. Now what are her behaviors based on? When feelings are the sole basis for action, watch out! That is why Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) talks about the ‘wise mind’, the intersection of the rational mind and the emotional mind.
Feelings are a Choice
While we cannot control others, what we do have control over is our own choices and attitude. Part of those choices are our feelings in any given moment. Don’t get me wrong, our surroundings and others influence us greatly, however you choose how you feel in any given moment. A soldier holds down grief when seeing his friend go down in a firefight. A mother pushes fear aside when running after her child in the path of an oncoming car. A father choosing forgiveness for someone who has hurt his child.
These are choices, and we make them every day. We either allow our past, and the feelings associated with it, to dictate to our emotional autopilot, or we decide with purpose and intention how we feel about the people and things around us. Our feelings are a very big part of the human experience. Our ability to control them, manage them and express them appropriately is what gives us the quality of life we want, or don’t want.