Most of us don’t know what to do with our feelings because we were never taught how to manage them.
In this episode, we talk about what causes our emotions, what the world tells us about feelings, how we tend to handle the uncomfortable ones, and how your beliefs about positive and negative feelings can change your life.
The full episode:
Hey hey! Episode 4 is here. So recording today was unplanned, but it’s a snow day, or I should say a freezing subzero day with no snowfall, here in Illinois, and I have three kids at home today, so PERFECT recipe for recording, am I right? Sometimes I just do things like that around here. It’s how I roll. My plan WAS to work on finishing my new website that I’m excited to launch soon, but, plans change.
I DO have to share that it’s currently colder here than on the North Pole. No kidding. I heard it on the news this morning. It’s 7 degrees at the North Pole, and currently negative something serious right here. My kids thought that was pretty awesome. SO, if you happen to be listening today and living in the arctic, I feel you. And if you have kids home from school on a snow day where you can’t go play in the snow because you might die, I also feel you.
Today’s episode is about FEELINGS! Emotions. Now, if you’re new to Beyond Happy and this is your first listen, I want to suggest that you maybe PAUSE this episode, and start with episode 1, or for SURE episode 2 where we start diving in to a few foundational topics that set the stage for all we’re going to be talking about around here. Episode 2 talks about Circumstances, and episode 3 follows that up with Thoughts. So if you want to catch up, have a listen to those two and then come back and dive into this episode on EMOTIONS.
Quick recap on Circumstances and Thoughts. The most important thing I want you to remember is that your life is made up of circumstances, or factual happenings, and then your thoughts about them. Circumstances are neutral. Always. You can give me any example and I can show you how it’s neutral. A circumstance is factual, and can be proven. Circumstances are something everyone would agree on. Why is this important? It’s important because you start to see that it’s not circumstances creating your life experience, but your THOUGHTS about them. It’s what you’re making those circumstances mean.
So circumstances are neutral.
Circumstances trigger thoughts in our brain.
Our brain responds to our thoughts with feelings. Emotions.
And today, it’s feelings we’re talking about.
What is a feeling?
Feelings are the result of a chemical release by your brain. They start in the brain and are a vibration we experience in the body. Our feelings are caused by what we think. Always. Let me repeat that, our feelings are caused by what we THINK. Many of us believe our feelings are involuntary and caused by our circumstances. We’re even taught this growing up. So if you’re having trouble with this one, give it some time. This can take some intentional un-learning what you’ve believed to be true for a lifetime. So stick with me.
We know neurologically that all feelings start in our brains, and are triggered by a thought. If you’re having the best day and feel amazing, on top of the world, it’s because of your thoughts. If you’re ticked off, irritated and having the worst day, again, it’s because of your thoughts. You will likely want to blame something on that bad day. It’s what we as humans do. Something that happened, or didn’t happen, the weather, something someone else did or said, but no. Those are circumstances, and circumstances are neutral, right? It’s always tied to your thoughts. This explains why one person can experience the same situation and have a completely different experience. Let’s say there are two women. We’ll call them Claire and Natalie. They’re both married, and it just so happens that their husbands both forget their birthday. Same circumstance, two different people. When Claire’s husband forgets her birthday, she is beside herself. Livid. She can’t stop thinking about it, and can’t let it go. She’s thinking, “How could he be so selfish? Doesn’t he even care about me? He’s the worst husband ever!” It’s not the fact that her husband forgot her birthday, but these very thoughts about it – what she’s making it mean – that are creating feelings of anger, among others.
But, Natalie… Natalie’s husband forgot her birthday too. She has a massage scheduled and lunch plans with friends, and as she realizes he husband must have forgotten her birthday, she laughs and makes a mental note to tease him about it later. “That’s funny”, she thinks to herself. She’s feeling… amused.
You can put yourself in either Claire or Natalie’s shoes, and see how this plays out. What kind of birthday to you think Claire’s going to have? How about Natalie? There’s a striking difference between the thoughts they chose in response to the circumstance of their husbands forgetting their birthdays. And there’s a striking difference in the feelings that were created by those thoughts.
So, Why do feelings matter?
Paying attention to your thinking and then noticing what you’re feeling is NOT something most people do on a regular basis. We’re not taught to feel our emotions. In fact, as a culture, we love to joke about this, don’t we? We talk about eating our emotions, about feeling numb. About needing a glass of wine to deal. This has become normal. But is it serving us well?
Feeling is an ability that most of us need to learn. Because we’re taught by culture, by media and social conditioning that we should ESCAPE our emotions. Maybe in food. Maybe in wine. Maybe in mindlessly scrolling social media. Maybe in shopping. Maybe in gossip. Maybe in work. There are endless ways we do this, but all of them involve escape.
So we’re taught to escape our emotions. We’re even taught that positive emotions aren’t enough by themselves – they need to be heightened by purchasing something, or by celebrating with food, or a drink.
There are 3 main things we do with uncomfortable emotions:
Resist, React, and Avoid
Let’s start with the first one. Resisting emotion. This can be confusing because when we’re resisting emotion we may think we ARE feeling. How we know we aren’t is when it creates no relief. It’s the difference between holding the door open and letting the emotion come through vs. holding the door shut. Stuffing it down. Packing the emotion away. We aren’t acknowledging what we’re truly feeling, we’re fighting feeling it. It might seem productive to resist it – you tell yourself you don’t want to feel negatively – you only want to feel good things – but the resistance just creates more tension. It actually intensifies the emotion when we resist. We think we don’t want to experience intense emotion because the thought of losing that control feels scary. We might worry that if we let ourselves feel sadness, for example, that we’ll just throw ourselves into a downward spiral with no end. But that isn’t true. if we just opened the door and let that emotion be felt, be experienced, we’d then experience relief. When we resist negative emotion, we’re putting a lid on it – but it’s still there. Simmering. Intensifying.
The second way we sometimes respond to uncomfortable emotions is by reacting. We might yell. Scream. Cry. And in that moment, we think that we’re feeling. We tell ourselves that we’re just letting it out. But we’re not feeling. We’re acting out. We’re acting out in anger, or frustration, or sadness, but we’re not processing our emotion. We’re not feeling them at all. Because feeling doesn’t look like “acting”. Feeling is completely internal. Feeling is something you can do by sitting on a chair and noticing the internal vibrations occurring. They are subtle vibrations, shifts you can feel at your core. And feeling them doesn’t involve acting out in any way.
Now the third way we might respond to uncomfortable emotions is by avoiding. We live in world that tells us this is both EASY and ACCEPTABLE. NORMAL, if you will. Two of the most common ways people avoid emotions is by overeating/overdrinking and working. And by working, this might mean working in the traditional sense, but it also might mean just being BUSY. This could be an entire episode on its own, and maybe someday it will, but for now, I just want you to be aware of the ways we avoid emotion. In every case, we think we’re taking care of ourselves by controlling and keeping ourselves from painful, emotional distress. But the outcome is always the same: increased suffering.
Let’s talk about positive and negative emotions.
Part of the reason we resist uncomfortable emotions is because of the belief that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. We touched on this in episode 2, Circumstances. And this is what the world tells us the goal of life is, right? Be happy. Do what makes you happy. You deserve it, they say. So it makes sense that we’d want to do whatever we need to push unpleasant emotions out of the way, and focus on the positive ones.
But, as I mentioned before, I don’t believe we were created to be happy all the time. Feelings are part of the human experience. We are wired with a contrast of positive and negative feelings that really makes all feeling possible. Because if we only experienced happiness in life, if that’s all we knew, we wouldn’t even know it was positive, would we? It’d just be the way things are. Positive feelings like happiness, joy, hope, excitement wouldn’t be possible without anger, sadness, frustration and worry. There is no light without darkness. No happiness without sadness. No encouragement without disappointment. No beauty without ugliness, and no good without evil. I believe it was meant to be this way. Why? Why do I believe this? Because it is this way. We live in a broken world. History of the human experience shows us this dichotomy over and over – this tension – between good and bad. Between positive and negative.
Despite this, many of us assume that life should be better than it is. We desperately want everything to be good. Some of us even feel the purpose of our life is to conquer all the bad things so we can live in a paradise of all good things. This belief has caused so much pain and violence throughout history. We see wars fought in the name of religion. We see violence, judgment and hate used to fight against, or to try to reduce violence, judgment and hate, and in doing so, we do the opposite. We hear people talk about fighting for what they believe in. They may be believing in kindness and peace, but they miss that the fighting part? It’s the opposite of what they’re believing in. It’s futile because it fuels the very thing they believe are trying to stop. My goal here is to introduce you to a new way of thinking. And as always, I offer thoughts and suggest ideas, but it’s always your choice to believe it, or to not believe it. That is always optional. I’m here to show you your thoughts.
You can start to see how when you believe everything should be good in the world, it impacts the way you think. And in turn, we know thoughts create feelings, so it affects how we feel. What if, instead of thinking, “It shouldn’t be this way”, you considered that MAYBE, maybe it is. Maybe our human experience is SUPPOSED to be a balance between positive and negative. Maybe life is all about navigating that tension between the two. I can tell you from experience that if you accept this concept, you’ll start to see a shift. It’s not about condoning anything, but when you view the world as a balance of good and bad, positive and negative, you’ll notice that you feel less negative ABOUT the negative. And when you accept that your life is going to be a balance of positive and negative, you realize you can stop fighting it. And how freeing that feels. Think about it. If you could stop hating something you hate, here would be less hate. Right?
There are arguments that can be made against this idea, for sure. There are injustices all around us and there are times when fighting those does lead to a win. But maybe the wins are more about bringing things back into balance. This idea of a balance between good and bad, positive and negative can apply to big, social issues and to smaller, daily struggles in our lives. But the big picture view here is that if you understand the roles of positive and negative emotions, your power, your ability to change your live, to live differently and in ways that serve you so much better can increase tenfold.
It’s all about creating that balance on purpose. About allowing ourselves to feel sad when we’re sad, or mad when we’re mad because negative emotions are not only OKAY TO FEEL, but part of your human experience. Sometimes in life you will choose to feel sad, mad, frustrated, angry, worried, devastated, distraught or crushed and that is OKAY. That is completely okay. The goal isn’t to feel happy all the time. It’s to let ourselves feel. To feel the good and the bad and the hard and the awesome. Because it’s really tough to appreciate the mountaintop highs if you’ve never seen the lows.
I know this can be complex subject matter. It’s powerful stuff and I want to really break it down for you. So let’s recap the concepts we’ve been talking about so far in this episode:
Circumstances in life are neutral. They trigger thoughts in our brains.
Our thoughts create our feelings.
The human experience is a balance of positive and negative emotions.
We have the ability to create emotion, based on our thoughts.
We also have the ability to resist, react to, avoid or ALLOW emotions.
Let’s talk about allowing. What does it look like to allow emotion?
First, it’s uncomfortable. Just putting that out there. But discomfort is the price of growth. You can do hard things, and you can be uncomfortable. It’s only uncomfortable because for most people it’s new and different. Paying attention to your thinking and noticing what you’re feeling? These aren’t things most people do on a regular basis. Allowing emotion is a learned skill. It takes practice. When you’re allowing, you’re not resisting a negative feeling. You’re not pretending it’s not there. You’re not avoiding it and you’re not reacting to it. You’re more of an observer. You’re observing what happens when a feeling arises, and you do it with compassion and without judgment. You just let it be.
Let’s say you’re feeling mad. You’re angry. You allow the feeling of anger to be there without resisting, reacting or avoiding. You observe. The easiest way to do this is to describe the emotion in detail. Writing it down can be really helpful. Ask yourself questions such as, “What am I feeling? Where is it in my body? How do I know I’m feeling this and not another emotion? If I had to describe this feeling to someone, what would I say?”
Next, instead of trying to get rid of it. Just let it be there. Breathe. Be open to it being there, and know that you can handle it. Know that it’s just a vibration in your body. That’s all it is. It’s there, and it’s a feeling. A vibration. It can’t harm you.
Now, when you start to allow a feeling that’s uncomfortable, you may feel your body start to tighten up against it. Remember, your brain has been trained to protect you, so when doing something uncomfortable, it may try to resist it be tensing up. This is normal and totally okay. You can let the emotion be heavy, to buzz, linger or agitate. Just observe and allow it to be there without suffering. As soon as you’re observing and describing the emotion, you might say, “This is okay. I’m just feeling _______.” Observe, and accept the emotion without judgment. Notice yourself begin to soften.
This feeling of discomfort and heaviness is what they’re talking about when referring to emotional baggage. We carry around the suffering of emotions we aren’t allowing, and it gets heavy. In this exercise, you can start to feel the release of that heaviness you’ve been carrying. Or maybe you didn’t even realize how heavy it had become.
Like the powerful tool of learning that our thoughts are optional, as we talked about in Episode 3, learning to allow emotions is another one of the most important you’ll ever learn. Learning this can completely change your relationship with yourself and the people around you because instead of being reactive or avoidant, you’ll become a compassionate observer.
Now, why does this matter?
Why are feelings so important in the big picture of things? Let’s piece a few things together first. Feelings are incredibly important because:
Circumstances trigger thoughts.
Thoughts create feelings.
And feelings lead to action.
Think a minute about the things you want in your life. From houses and cars, to relationships and health, from success and confidence to faith and security, we all have hopes and dreams for ourselves and the people in our lives. We think we want the very things I just named, but in truth, what we really want are the feelings we believe we’ll have once we get those things.
As humans, we’re driven by feelings. Feelings drive everything we do, or don’t do.
Take a sec and think about something you want. Ask yourself, why do I want this? You may have a surface level answer at first, but if you go deeper, and ask yourself why again, you’ll eventually get to the feeling driving the entire desire for the thing you want.
Let’s say you tell me you want to go on vacation. If I keep asking questions about why you want this, you might say that you need a change of environment, a break from work or even just that you like seeing new places. Next, I ask you what you’ll feel when you have those things. You may say, “I’ll be so relaxed and calm. Less stressed.” It’s these emotions that are driving you to want the vacation – not the vacation itself.
Now, there’s nothing wrong at all with wanting a vacation. When do we leave? Because I AM. IN. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a vacation, but recognizing that what you really want is to feel relaxed and calm is a very powerful realization. Why? Because those feelings are available to you at any time regardless of whether or not you go on vacation. Since we know that our thoughts create our feelings, we can choose to have thoughts that create the feelings we’ll need to take action – to make that vacation happen. Because it’s positive emotions that lead to effective action and the desired results. If your thought about a vacation is, “I’m ready, let’s do this!” and you’re all in, you’re creating feelings of commitment and excitement, you’re likely going to make that vacation happen. If your thought about vacation is, “No way. Can’t afford that.”, what feeling does that create? Disappointment? Self-pity? Frustration? It could create a variety of emotions, but the negative thought is going to create feelings that don’t lead you to getting on the airplane anytime soon. You can see how these two scenarios play out.
Again, it’s positive feelings – positive emotions – that lead to actions and results in our lives. As humans, we don’t usually like the way negative emotions feel, so much of our behavior is an attempt to change or avoid them. Remember, earlier I talked about positive and negative emotions and how there is nothing wrong with negative emotions. There are times in life when you are going to choose to want to feel sad, for example. The important this is to realize the relationship between emotions and the actions you take, or don’t take, because of how you’re feeling. Feels cause us to take action, and the actions we take create our results. You can see how making any change in life – that is, creating a new or different result – is dependent on your thoughts and feelings. If you want to change your life, you have to learn to become aware of what you’re feeling in the present moment.
Because our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings cause the actions we take, and actions create results.
This is some complex stuff we’re talking about here, so thank you for sticking with me. Talking about feelings can be challenging because of all that we’re taught – or not taught – about expressing emotion. The truth is we aren’t taught how to manage our thoughts and emotions, so it can involve some hard work at first. But you can do hard things.
This first handful of foundational concepts can get really deep, but they’re super important to understand so that we can begin to apply what we’re learning here to real life challenges and changes that we want to make happen.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the idea of thoughts causing your feelings rather than them being an involuntary response to something, it gives you tremendous power. In learning this, the next best thing you can do is simply observe. Recognize when you’re feeling something that’s uncomfortable, and name it. Observe the feeling and let it be. Remember, this is something that takes time and practice, so be patient and know that yep, you’re going to react in anger, or feel annoyed, or worried, or frustrated, and that’s because you’re human.