Unpacking FeelingsJul 13, 2022
Everything you want is on the other side of something you don’t want to feel
Pop culture would have you believe that feeling your feelings is commonplace. When I was going through my list of possible songs to link to this post, it was clear that people like to talk about (and sing about) their feelings. Digging a little deeper reveals the truth. Most artists who sing about feelings are singing about things they want to feel or don’t want to feel. How many people allow themselves to feel the things they are actually feeling.
I’ll be honest, feeling my feelings is not my greatest strength. I’m not sure it is anyone’s greatest strength. Many of us spend our days trying to outrun our emotions because we are terrified of how they might feel, what our emotions mean, or what might come up if we allow our feelings to be present. So we hide and wish our emotions away.
For those unfamiliar with coaching, our feelings result from our thoughts. In other words, we have a thought that causes us to feel a feeling. The two are intimately linked such that you cannot have a feeling without first thinking a thought.
In another interesting turn of events, everything we do in life is motivated by feelings. Whatever you want in life is because of how you imagine it might make you feel. The Motivational Triad dictates that we are all trying to:
- Seek pleasure
- Avoid pain
- Do both as efficiently as possible
Many of us find solace in buffering in our attempt to avoid pain. Buffering is an activity you do to avoid feeling something negative in your life. Common examples of buffering include: overworking, drinking alcohol to deal with a stressful day, overeating, or doomscrolling on social media. While none of these things is bad, if they are done with the express purpose of not feeling stressed, bored, frustrated, or angry, it prevents you from experiencing the full complement of human emotions. Buffering also keeps you from achieving your goals. If you want to lose weight, but every time you feel stressed, you grab a snack, the weight loss goal gets further and further away.
When it comes to feeling emotions, what are the options?
Resisting an emotion is analogous to trying to submerge a beach ball underwater. You can do it, but it takes a lot of effort. The effort creates tension and perpetuates the emotion.
Reacting to an emotion occurs when you act out in response to a feeling. It happens when you stop pushing down on the submerged beach ball. The beach ball will explode to the surface to release the built-up tension. This frequently follows resisting an emotion. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t know what happened? I just exploded.” That is reacting to an emotion.
Avoiding an emotion is pretending that it doesn’t exist. It is attempting to distract ourselves with overeating, overdrinking, overworking, overFacebooking, etc. The coaching term for avoiding an emotion is buffering.
Allowing an emotion is noticing the feeling. It is observing how it feels in your body, describing the feeling in detail, and accepting that the emotion is there. It is being a compassionate observer by noticing the feeling without judgment.
So now you know more about feelings and emotions than you ever wanted. Why does any of this matter? Why can’t I just have a glass of wine when I get home to unwind and destress? What’s the big deal?
The answer is simple: Everything you want is on the other side of something you don’t want to feel. The bigger the goal, the bigger the uncomfortable feeling. When we try to outrun our emotions, we feel burned out, ashamed, and hopeless. A snack or a drink may help in the moment, but the feelings don’t go away. They are still hiding under the surface, just like the beach ball, ready to erupt at any moment. Even worse, we frequently judge ourselves for eating the snack or drinking the drink that was supposed to make us feel better.
Rather than running from your feelings, start by simply becoming aware of what you are feeling. Try to be as specific as possible. What you initially identify as anger may come from sadness or another emotion. Take a moment and try to name the feeling. Where are you feeling the emotion in your body? Do you feel a tightness in your chest or clenching in your jaw? How would you explain the feeling to a five-year-old?
Raising awareness about where the feelings exist in your body can help you better recognize the emotions in the future. Once you are aware of the feeling, have identified it, and recognized it in your body, you get to just let it be there. Don’t try to change it. Just acknowledge the sensation and don’t judge yourself for feeling it. The moment you can observe yourself feeling the emotion, it no longer has authority over you. You are no longer at the effect of your feelings. When you can witness it, you can control it. And once you have control over your emotions, your actions change, and your goals get a lot closer.
There is no way around feeling your feelings. It is our cross to bear as human beings. But it is also a tremendous gift. Once you recognize that you can handle any emotion, you can begin to move towards the dreams and goals you truly want to accomplish. You get to feel the discomfort of a challenging task, recognize it, acknowledge it, then do it anyway. You get to bring your feelings along for the ride in the passenger seat as you ride off into the sunset on your way to achieving your biggest goals.
What are the three most common feelings you feel on a daily basis? What three feelings do you wish you could feel every day? Is it possible that a negative feeling might help you get to your goal faster than a positive emotion?
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PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Counting Crows - Rain King
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