Wrestling unruly feelings to the ground.


By David Joel Miller.

Getting misbehaving feelings under control is a three-step process.

It would be nice if you could keep these pesky feeling-gremlins out of your house and your life in the first place but somehow they keep getting in.

There are techniques for regulating which feeling you let into your place and which you choose to entertain. Those techniques on controlling access to your life are something that we teach and practice in doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. More on that later.

Not all negative or painful feelings need to be banished. Some feelings, sadness, anxiety or loneliness are like distant relatives, fine in small doses, nice to see occasionally just to remind you who they are, but not someone you want moving in and living with you full-time.

But for now what if you discover that some unnecessary negative feeling has taken up residence in your life and you decide this is not cool with you. What do you do?

1. Find the feeling.

This can be a struggle at first. Unhealthy feelings can be like termites. You do not see them but all the while they are eating away at your mental health house.

We often are unaware of what feelings have moved in and taken over our lives until they have begun to be destructive.

Recognize that you are feeling something is the first step in getting these creatures to do our bidding.

Yes feelings have their purpose. That pain in the neck feeling, that is telling you that this person is not a health relationship for you. Anxiety, that one is trying to keep you safe. If your anxiety tells you to duck when there is gun fire then it is doing its job. If it tells you to stay home because leaving the house is too scary, tell that anxiety to take some time off.

Makes sure to check all around your body for those feelings. They may be hiding in the pit of your stomach or in your lower back. Not all of those aches and pains are real physical pain. Some of those are pesky negative feelings that have moved in and are cramping up your nerve cells.

Get those feelings located and you may be able to get them to move to where they can do you some good.

2. Name that feeling.

Women seem to have a genetic advantage here. They have all kinds of feeling words. We men usually are only acquainted with three feelings by first name. We are “good, bad or pissed off.”

Learn the difference between excited and anxious. Get to recognize the difference between rage and it’s younger, smaller, sibling irritated.

Getting the right name on the feeling can help you get them to stay where they belong.

3. Apply your feeling control techniques.

There are whole books on how to control or make use of particular feelings. The one that gets the most press is the feeling anger and its larger relative rage. Those two do a lot of damage.

Learn those ABC techniques for changing the way you interact with those feelings and you will find them better behaved. SAMHSA publishes a cool book on anger management available free from their website. Lots of programs use that book and others.

In CBT therapy we find that it is not always the feeling that is causing the problem. Your beliefs about why people are doing things may be generating lots of extra negative emotions.

Make sure you invite in lots of positive feelings. Having a huge gathering of happiness, acceptance and patience makes those anger and anxiety feelings uncomfortable enough that they may leave. At least they will hole up in their room and not bother the rest of your feelings.

Are your feelings well-behaved, or do you need to do some work on emotional regulation, getting those feelings back to working for you instead of the other way around?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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