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The Truth About Your Feelings

Donna Morrison 1
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Do You Know How You Feel?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

You’re at church, at a bar, out with your kids at the grocery store or park, grabbing some coffee by yourself for a mental break, or on a plane rushing home for a family emergency. For whatever reason you have that look on your face that tells the world:

You’re not in the mood.

Something has gone wrong on a massive level for you.

Picture this.

Stephanie lives a thousand miles away from the small town she grew up in. She left home several years ago because her small town was just too small for the wanderlust she was born with. Unfortunately, her mother has several medical issues, and taking care of her fell to Stephanie’s sister who stayed behind in that small town.

6 years ago, Stephanie’s mom had a quadruple by-pass and today she’s on a long list of medications. Yesterday, Stephanie’s sister Chris called to tell Stephanie that their mother had some sort of black-out episode at the local grocery store.

This is worrisome because Stephanie knows that some of her mother’s medications cause dizziness and tiredness. Anyway, Chris rushed their mom to the E.R. where they completed an MRI and diagnosed her as having experienced a Delirium.

Before the doctors were done with her mom’s CT scan though Stephanie was already on a plane headed home. The whole affair terrified Stephanie for a lot of reasons.

Sitting on the plane as the pilot launched his passengers into the air above the clouds, the passenger next to Stephanie leaned over and asked:

Are you alright? Is something wrong?

Emotions and Feelings

We tend to use words such as ’emotions’ and ‘feelings’ interchangeably even though these are two distinctly different phenomenons. Emotions are our brain’s biochemical reaction to changes in our body. It’s our survival mechanism.

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Fight or flight can be described as an emotion because our brain reacts with fear in when our bodies are put in danger. Feelings are our reactions to emotions, and they’re usually subconscious.

We literally cannot control our emotions and feelings. So, just put that notion out of your head. We can, however, learn to identify and work with the emotions and feelings we have once we experience them. We can also learn to regulate our emotions and feelings but only if we can correctly identify them.

What’s going on emotionally and physically inside your body is portrayed to you through feelings.

Some feelings might be the mood you’re in, or how you feel after an exhilarating workout. Basically, what’s going on emotionally and physically inside your body is portrayed to you through feelings.

  • Excitement
  • Shame
  • Empathy
  • Mood and changes in mood
  • Tiredness
  • Anxiety

Also, even though emotions and feelings are technically different, some inter cross. We might think of contentment and joy as happiness. Contentment and joy are momentary feelings that we experience as a result of our emotional happiness.

How do you feel?

So… How do you feel?

Do you know?

Understanding how you feel starts like anything else. You have to have a baseline. Your baseline comes from the feelings you’re already familiar with, and not in denial about. Take tiredness for example.

You know when you’re tired right?

We all do. Some of us try to push through it for whatever reason, but we all know what this basic feeling is. It’s our bodies telling us to sleep.

Stephanie felt terrified that she might lose her mother. She also felt something else that she knew came from the anxiety of the situation. Believe it or not, Stephanie is one of the lucky few who don’t experience stress very often. The quick flight, and the long days that followed created feelings of stress and anxiety for an individual who was unfamiliar with them.

Ask yourself how you feel. When you can answer that question truthfully, and with ease, you’ve found a feeling you’re familiar with, understand, and might even be comfortable with. Use those moments to explore your mind-body connection. We all have moments in our lives when we don’t know how we feel.

Can You Control How You Feel?

Short answer:

Nope.

Complicated answer:

Maybe.

What are emotions and feelings?

Emotions come down to our brains biochemical reactions to external stimuli enacted on our bodies.

A person who has a fear of snakes is going to experience fear when they see a snake in their garden. It doesn’t matter if the snake is just a black snake sunbathing in the morning air. It’s still terrifying to someone with a phobia.

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A man who jumps out of an airplane is going to feel a rush of exhilaration and excitement. His rational mind may know that there’s a parachute strapped to his back, but his primal survival instincts will kick in and express their opinions on the matter of the fact that the air is thin, and it knows the body is falling at an alarming rate for some reason.

Even animals experience emotions and feelings.

A dog who’s gun shy is going to experience anxiety during a mid-July rainstorm, or a September hurricane in North Carolina. Every time it thunders they may even bolt across the house barking at every clap.

Feelings are how we react to or explain our emotions. In some cases, feelings and emotions may overlap. It depends on which theory you follow. Feeling content may be a consequence of emotional happiness.

Control

If you go and jump out of a plane, it doesn’t matter if you’ve done it before; if you’re jumping with other experienced jumpers; or if it’s your first time. Your body is going to react in a given way. You absolutely cannot suppress that feeling of exhilaration and excitement.

It’s not physically possible.

The reason it’s not possible is that feelings and emotions aren’t just thought patterns that we can dismiss if we’re psychologically strong enough. We create those to explain our emotions and feelings.

That rush a skydiver feels, the fear that courses through the gardener’s legs, or the chills that run up and down your dog’s spine when the thunder claps all come from a biochemical physiological response. In all of these situations, the brains of the individuals involved know that some external stimuli are acting upon its body. Therefore, the brain is responding the only way it can.

It comes down to our evolved survival instincts.

Skydiver with open parachute

Personal Responsibility

In the case of the gardener, they may not be able to control the paralyzing fear they felt this morning when they walked out to the garden to see the biggest black snake, they’ve ever seen in their life sunbathing in the garden path.

They may not even be able to control the fact that their legs locked up for a moment. But they do have the ability to control how they respond.

Let’s take a look at some responses and their consequences:

They can use a snake slayer and do away with the snake. Then they would have a mess to clean up.

They can simply run back inside the house and pretend that the garden no longer exists. In which case, the garden would go untended, and the snake probably wouldn’t ever go back into the garden anyway.

They can take a moment to regain some senses, let the adrenaline finish its course, and continue on with the task of weeding the garden as originally intended.

Regardless of how you feel about any situation, the question shouldn’t be if you can control your emotions or feelings. Instead, the focus should be on understanding your feelings, how you can use them, what purpose they serve, and how you can respond to them.

You may not be able to control feelings of jealousy, fear, excitement, or hope but you do have complete control over how you choose to react and respond to any situation that elicits these (or any other) feelings.

Feelings Are Just Feelings, They Are Not Reality

It’s true. That doesn’t mean, however, that feelings aren’t real. It simply means they aren’t fact, they’re not the reality. Even though you feel it deeply, doesn’t mean that it’s the reality of the situation.

Understand this – your feelings and emotions are absolutely valid.

This isn’t about questioning how you feel or if you should feel this way. However, you do have to question what your feelings are based on – is it reality?

Probably not.

Loneliness is an excellent example. When you feel alone it’s easy to slip into thinking that it will always be this way or that you’re lonely because nobody likes you.

Is that the reality of the situation?

Let’s take a look at the evidence.

What people in your life do you consider to be your friend? Has someone texted you or engaged with you online today? When did you last feel connected to someone?

You can acknowledge your loneliness, while still recognizing the fact that this isn’t forever. That feeling feels real to you because it is a real feeling. However, others will not view it the same as you. You can validate and hear the feelings of others as they can do for you, but it’s no one’s responsibility to cater to your feelings. It’s your own. No one can change it, but you.

Let’s be clear – other people can absolutely cheer you up and lift you up. However, it isn’t their responsibility. It’s your responsibility.

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Your feelings and emotions are what motivate you. They push you on even after a disaster. They prod you even when you have continually faced disappointment.

You can be an emotional person, and if you’re not you likely know one. That isn’t an inherently bad thing. Your feelings can be a good thing! When you recognize that they are not always rooted in reality.

As you get older, you have learned to understand your feelings. You accept them, trust them, and even enjoy them. Sometimes, though, we forget to embrace the positive feelings and get hung up on the negative ones that bring us fear and pain.

This is something that can help you understand that your feelings will not always tell you the truth. Sometimes, we experience feelings that just aren’t real. It feels real, though. So, if it feels real, then it must be real.

Feelings aren’t reality.

A lot of things in life can trigger an emotional response. Some come from the past, some are in the present, and there are even those triggered by thoughts of the future. Then there are the feelings that come from fantasies. We fill our heads with lies that fuel unhappiness, and needlessly so.

We face an endless supply of feelings, both negative and positive, on a daily basis. What you have to do is learn to differentiate between those feelings that are rooted in reality and those that come directly from your imagination.

Your boss looked at you kind of funny and now you’re convinced you’re about to get fired. That’s not reality. That’s your imagination playing tricks on you. You have allowed those feelings to consume you, to overwhelm you, all because you have created a negative outcome in your imagination. It can leave you feeling out of sorts for hours, even days.

There is no need for you to feel this way. The best thing that you can do in situations like this is to tackle your feelings head-on. As soon as you begin to experience negative feelings, take a look at the evidence. Is this feeling rooted in reality? There’s a good chance that your miserable feelings are misleading you.

This Feeling Will Pass Quote

“This feeling will pass. The fear is real but the danger is not.”― Cammie McGovern

Dealing with Difficult Feelings

Between work, family, running errands, taking care of your kids, paying your bills, and just getting through your daily life, it can feel overwhelming and like you just do not have time for anything else.

Dealing with difficult emotions, like loneliness, sadness, or anger, takes time, so we often choose not to deal with them rather than confront and process how we feel. But, because these emotions are often the most profound sources of stress in our lives, learning to deal with them effectively can make the rest of those things easier, not harder.

Learning to deal with difficult emotions starts by practicing mindfulness, which teaches you how to calm your reaction to emotions and soothe complicated feelings. Once you are in a state of mindfulness, it becomes easier to reflect upon and thoughtfully process your feelings rather than just reacting without thought.

The Steps for Dealing with Difficult Emotions

Start by accepting that you need to feel this emotion. Pay attention to how it makes you feel physically and what part of your body responds to it. What muscles tighten, what symptoms do you feel when you think about it? Do not ignore these signs.

Pay attention to them, because if you try to push them aside, they will find a way to make themselves known later. Paying attention to them is the first step and often the hardest for anyone who struggles to acknowledge hard feelings.

Next, be sure you accurately identify what you are feeling. Be as precise as possible and focus on the fact that this just an emotion. It is not WHO you are; it is HOW you are feeling. Naming your feelings first takes some of the power away from them and allows you to process them more fully. When you admit that you are feeling anxiety about a situation, it keeps you in the present and does not allow you to focus on the unknown future, which you can’t control.

Learning to deal with difficult emotions means that you must accept that you are feeling this way. Denying that you are sad or angry does not help you to feel less depressed or angry. Instead, it can make you feel even more of these difficult emotions.

When you accept that you are feeling a particular emotion, you can decide to be compassionate and understanding toward yourself, in the same way you would toward others who are struggling with similar feelings. You can’t stop the feelings, but you can accept that this is what you need to feel right now, so what is the best way to move forward.

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When you open yourself up to experience the emotions that you have been trying to ignore, you will soon see that they occupy a space in your mind for just a short time, and then you are able to focus on other things in your life.

When you allow yourself to experience the hard emotions, you have a greater awareness of how emotions can affect and their lack of power over you when you determine that you are in control.

When you learn to deal with and embrace your emotions, you quickly realize that they do not last. They come and go, and they may sometimes stay a little longer than you would like, but they will disappear. Having patience, paying attention, and being mindful of your emotions will help you get through the process with less pain and difficulty and allow you so soon move on to other things in your life.

Processing Your Feelings for Improved Emotional Health

For most of us, processing our emotions is not a natural or instinctual activity. Our culture places a high value on rational thought and analysis and little worth on feelings. So, we do not teach our children healthy and productive ways to process emotions, which leads to adults who cannot deal with how they are feeling in a healthy way.

Girl covering her eyes with her hand

The more you ignore or distract yourself from your emotions, though, the worse you will feel.

When you fail to process your feelings, they will make themselves known in other ways. They manifest as general anxiety, health problems, mood disorders, despair, and other negative outcomes that can affect your mental and physical health over time.

Allowing yourself to experience and process your genuine emotions has many benefits. Here are just three of the crucial reasons why you owe it to yourself to start processing your feelings.

#1. Numbing one emotion numbs them all.

When you avoid some emotions, you create barriers that lessen all your feelings, including the positive ones. So, trying to feel less pain also translates into feeling less joy. When you allow yourself to feel sadness or pain, you open yourself up to feeling real happiness, as well.

To be human is to accept that all these emotions are part of who we are and are necessary for our growth. By ignoring the negative parts of our emotional health, we endanger the positive aspects, too.

#2. Struggle is unnecessary and just creates more hurt.

Here’s the deal. You will never be able to avoid your feelings successfully. They will find a way to release and be heard. And the more you resist and struggle, the worse you will feel and the longer your pain will last. If you allow yourself to experience these emotions and learn to process them effectively, your hurt will be brief and productive, rather than long and pointless.

#3. Your emotions are filled with valuable information that could teach you something.

When you experience a strong reaction or feel a lingering emotion, this is your mind’s way of telling you something. “Hey, look over here!” When you notice these, instead of ignoring them, your reaction is more much productive when you choose to pay attention and listen.

Perhaps you could learn about an unmet need in your life or be reminded of a passion you had forgotten. Emotions tell us crucial information about ourselves and others, so stop ignoring and start listening.

Tips for Processing Your Feelings

If you want to get in touch with and learn to process your feelings, the first step is learning to identify and name your emotions. Meditation and mindfulness exercises are helpful in this step, as they teach you to stop and think about what it is you are feeling.

Listen to your body and your mind. Ignore distractions and focus on what you are feeling.

Ask yourself why you feel this way. Identifying the source of your emotions as well as how they make you feel physically is essential. Accept that this feeling is necessary for your life right now and you must endure it to learn from it. What can this emotion teach you? Become curious about the nature of your feelings, and you will learn a lot from them.

After you confront your emotions and are honest with yourself about why this is happening in your life, release it. Let it go once it is done teaching you its valuable lessons. You have felt it, and you are ready to move on, so let it go. Then, you can be at peace and stop struggling with these intense feelings that have been plaguing you.

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  1. Well researched and interesting. Provides a deeper insight into emotions and feelings that can help a person reflect on how situations impact everyday life behavior.

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