By David Joel Miller
20 ways to make your emotions your friends, not your master.
Sometime near the Victorian era humans adopted the idea that emotions were bad and pure rational thought was good. The result is that a lot of people make a serious effort to stay out of touch with their feelings.
Not allowing yourself to feel sad can result in an inability to feel happy.
Recently studies have shown that top executives who paid attention to their feelings, used their intuition as an element in making decisions were significantly more successful at growing their companies.
Here are some suggested practices that can make those feelings, even the uncomfortable ones, into friends that are providing you with the information you need to create the life you want.
1. Pay attention to the times you are feeling.
Do not ignore traffic lights or sirens. Learn to pay attention to the alarms that go off in your building and in your head.
The first step in making friends with your feelings is to notice when they are trying to tell you something. Like young children, these feelings you have been ignoring may keep repeating their message over and over until you stop and acknowledge that you have felt them.
2. Learn where your feelings live.
Most of us house feelings in particular places. Tension lives in the neck or head. Discussed can make you sick to your stomach. When you get a strange body sensation do not dismiss it. Check it out. Is this a physical ache or pain or is this emotional? A whole lot of undiagnosable pains turn out to be feelings that people mistake for a physical ailment. Yes, psychosomatic pain hurts. It is your emotions that live in your body telling you that they need your attention.
3. Learn the names of your feelings.
If you have feelings, and we all do, after you have identified that you are having this sensation, psychical or emotional, next try to put a name to the feeling. The more names you can attach to feelings the more accurate the information they can provide to you.
4. Recognize that others may not be feeling what you are feeling – empathy.
Not everyone experiences an event the same way. Learn to recognize that others may be scared when you are intrigued. What makes someone else feel excitement may make you fearful.
5. Study and learn about nonverbal expressions of feelings.
More than half of human emotions are conveyed in nonverbal form. We share this with other animals. A growl means one thing and a wagging tail and a whimper another Humans make nonverbal statements all the time.
You probably do it whether you realize it or not.
Ever noticed someone who rolled their eyes when others talk? It is annoying if you are the one who is on the receiving end of the eye roll.
Do you roll your eyes? Make an effort to notice how others express their emotions nonverbally and then challenge yourself to see the times you use the same nonverbal displays of your emotions. You may be surprised that you have been giving off a lot of unconscious “vibes.”
6. Get to know yourself – what makes you feel each feeling.
In therapy, I often ask the client to tell me what makes them happy and what makes them sad. A surprisingly large number cannot list things that produce either of these feelings. They may occasionally feel happy but they have no idea why. If you know what makes you happy you can try to increase the happy experiences in life.
7. Stay in the present.
The feelings that matter most are those you are feeling right now. The nervous system is perfectly capable of reliving past experiences and providing you the feelings that accompanied those experiences. Staying in the present allows you to make the maximum use of the information your feelings are providing about your current situation.
8. Make peace with the past.
Most of us remember a lot of things from the past, those past memories are likely to be biased in the direction of painful experiences, memories of mistakes you made.
9. Do not try to live the future before it gets here.
You can dream the future. You can prepare for it and practice for it, but your life is lived in the present. Make that the best possible present and you will create the future you want.
10. Believe in something beyond yourself.
Realistic people know that they are not perfect. We all make mistakes. The more you do the more errors you will make. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Do not expect yourself to be perfect.
Having a power greater than yourself to focus on keeps you from falling into the trap of believing that everything is unsatisfactory.
11. Set good boundaries.
Taking care of yourself is not being selfish. Set boundaries. Do not let others dump their garbage on your lawn or their negative feeling in your lap.
12. Learn to listen more than you talk.
Do not jump to conclusions. A lot of hurt feeling are the result of thinking someone said something to or about you that as not what they were really saying.
It is more important to understand what someone else is saying and feeling than it is to get them to understand you.
The person who most needs to understand you is you.
13. Observe others to see what they feel.
Words can be deceptive. Actions often speak louder than words. Watch what others do as well as say. Learn to read their nonverbal messages and see how they may be feeling behind the words they say.
14. Develop a passion – care about something.
Without a strong passion, life becomes bland. What energizes you? What do you care about? What is your life purpose and passion? Find those things and you will find that those feelings that dwell in your passion will make you a better person.
15. Learn your triggers.
Certain things can trigger strong emotions whether you want them to or not. Does the evening news make you feel informed or depressed? How does the weather and the changes of the season affect your mood states?
16. Do the right thing.
Living a life that is consistent with your values and goals will produce a life with fewer fears or regrets.
17. Give more than you take.
If you have ever helped a child or a person in need, you should have had the experience of feeling good that you could be of service. That feeling of pride in helping others is one of the great joys of life. Do not cheat yourself out of the chance to feel good by helping others. Do not cheat others out of the chance to feel good by helping you.
Do good to others for the joy of feeling good about what you did. If you do things for others expecting something in return then you are setting yourself up to feel cheated. The greatest joy is in the giving. But you can enjoy the receiving also if you accept the gift with no judgment about what it should have been.
18. Set high goals.
Set high goals for your life. Aim higher than you need to reach to feel good about yourself. You are unlikely to accomplish more than you aimed for but do not be disheartened if you get less than all you have aimed for.
19. Accept failure as a required subject.
The only person who does not fail is the one who does not try. Learn from your misses. Take more shots and see what you may be able to accomplish.
20. Forgive yourself – guilt makes you do better, shame is that feeling of not being an OK person.
Learn the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a normal functional feeling. Guilt is the feeling “I did something I should not have done or failed to do what I should have done.” Quilt gets you to stop doing things you should not do. It can also motivate you to do those things you should do.
Shame is about feeling you are a bad person because you did something or failed in your efforts to do something. Some families are shame based. They try to control each other by putting the others down for the things that were less than perfect. Do not feel ashamed if you tried and were less than perfect. That is what a human is supposed to do. Try, do the less than perfect, and then try again. If you can hit the bull eye the first time the target is too close.
Aiming higher by accepting that what you do, if done with good motives, is good enough.
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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.