By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Unexplored feelings are like unopened mail.
Imagine going into your email and randomly deleting as many emails as possible. That email from a friend – mark it delete.
The email from the electric company and the mortgage company delete those unopened. Can you imagine going along randomly clicking delete without knowing what was in the email?
Some people try to avoid bills by not opening the mail. While that may avoid having to deal with problems for a while, eventually the power gets shut off, or the home goes into foreclosure. Those and many other issues could have been solved just by paying attention to the notices you are getting.
Some people think feelings are to be avoided.
Somewhere along the line, I’m guessing back during the Victorian era; feelings got a bad reputation. In their effort not to be carried away and controlled by feelings, being rational and unemotional was elevated to a virtue. The problem that created was making feelings into our enemies rather than our friends.
Feelings can be valuable sources of information.
It turns out that emotions and feelings can be valuable sources of information. By some estimates, more than half of all your nerve cells are located outside your head. There are nerve cells surrounding your stomach and intestines. They can tell you when you’re hungry or when your intestines are in distress.
Those same nerve cells can also communicate information about dangerous or unpleasant situations. When you say that someone makes you sick to your stomach, there’s truth to that statement. Your nervous system is reacting to that person and preparing to ready you for the flight or fight response.
When we say that someone is a pain in the neck, this is a very tangible sensation. The nerve cells which connect your brain to the muscles in your neck have sent the message to tighten those muscles in preparation for an emergency.
Unpleasant feelings can also motivate you to act.
Loneliness can make you miserable. Loneliness can also tell you that you aren’t getting enough human contact. Humans are inherently social animals. Living in groups increases our chances of survival. Feeling lonely can motivate you to reach out to others and increase your social connections.
Feeling tired both physically and emotionally tired is one of the early signs of burnout. Feeling tired warns you that the energy you are expending exceeds the available resources. Rather than being an interference with what you’re trying to do that feeling of being tired is a warning that you need to attend to your bodies physical and emotional resources.
Trying to avoid feeling unpleasant emotions can harm you.
Many people get themselves into serious trouble by attempting to avoid experiencing unpleasant feelings. Using drugs and alcohol to cope with anger, loneliness, or feeling tired, may anesthetize those feelings in the short term but eventually, those efforts to escape dealing with those feelings results in creating an even larger problem, alcoholism or drug addiction.
You shouldn’t pretend that you don’t feel what you’re feeling.
Ignoring the messages from feelings is the emotional equivalent of taping over the gauges on your car’s dashboard. You can ignore the check engine light, disregard the oil light, and ignore the gas gauge, but if you do, eventually your car will stop running.
Feelings can be like little children clamoring for your attention.
The next time you experience a feeling you’d rather not feel, try treating it like a small child. Initially, you need to listen to that feeling. After you are sure you’ve heard the message, the feeling is giving you, decide what you want to do with it. Sometimes you must deal with it immediately, and other times you can defer action. What you shouldn’t do is try to ignore the message that feeling is trying to give you.
Learning to work cooperatively with your feelings rather than being controlled by them or completely ignoring their messages is a skill you need to develop to have a happy, productive, life.
For more on this topic, take a look at the post about the three processes for making friends with your feelings.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.
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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 my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.