How To Handle Feelings-Part 1

Feelings are much like the wind. They come and go, and they may provide a wide variety of unexpected experiences. Sometimes you cannot see them coming. You have a multitude of possibilities about how you respond to the presence of a feeling.
Despite some controversy about this following point among psychological researchers, I maintain that we do not have control over our feelings in the typical way we think about controlling things. Nonetheless, we have a great deal of influence over our feelings. For example, let’s use a common example of driving and someone cuts you off. Chances are you will feel distressed in some way. However, there are a host of factors that determine both your emotional and subsequent behavioral responses. A few of them are listed below:

I could go on, but you get the picture. Our feelings are not always easy to predict.

Feelings, especially strong ones, are usually multi-splendored experiences, and there are a couple of important elements to keep in mind when thinking about 'controlling' them. First, your attitude about feelings, what they are, and whether you should be able to control them. Second, what processes do you use to welcome and honor your feelings?

If you have a basic grievance with the existence of strong feelings and think they are bad or are innately a source of trouble, you have a serious internal conflict to deal with right from the start. I say this because there is a pretty good chance some strong ones are going to show up. For more on this notion of feelings just showing up I invite you to take a look at a poem entitled, "The Guest House," by the 12th century Persian poet Rumi. [Click here to view the poem]

Now let's go back to the driving example. Let's imagine you experienced a strong burst of anger after the incident, hardly an unusual response for someone who has just been cut off by another driver. You may not have a choice about what is happening with you emotionally in those first few seconds, but you have a great deal of choice about what to do after the feelings arrive—do you keep the turmoil rolling and gathering steam, or do you more peacefully let it rest. Or perhaps you experience a wave of fear. Let's not forget the possibility of experiencing both fear and anger simultaneously. What do you do then?

Whatever your habits are when it comes to dealing with feelings, I recommend you consider them a resource. As we know, some resources are constructive, some neutral, while others are more obviously destructive. Consider how your emotional habits help you, and how and when do they hurt?

In later blogs we'll look at specific ways of honoring feelings. In the meantime, thanks for reading this.

George Glaser George is a clinical social worker in private practice in Austin, Texas.

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