Feelings are not facts, but they contain excellent information, so it’s valuable to experience them – even the uncomfortable ones. You may think you can ignore bad feelings, but that won’t make them go away. Instead, they typically turn inward or outward, and surface at inappropriate times for unrelated reasons. So when you start sobbing uncontrollably during a commercial, or you get super angry when the person in front of you at the supermarket isn’t moving fast enough, chances are, your suppressed feelings are making a jailbreak.
Having been a person who attempted to ignore my negative emotions by being overly busy, exercising and overindulging in food, I finally figured out the key to acknowledging my feelings: I notice them, but I don’t act on them until I know what they are trying to tell me. Before I react, I ask questions. I get curious.
Anger is a great example. When I get angry, rather than yelling or blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, I notice it. I breathe into it. It’s a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel it in my body as a churning in the stomach. What am I angry about? What thought is causing that feeling? Is it true, or is it a story? What is the story I am telling myself? What is it that I really need? Once I can identify what I want, (and usually it’s not punching the other person in the nose or bruising his or her ego), I can calmly express myself to the other person, or find a way to independently fulfill my needs. Once my feelings are felt and understood, I take appropriate action, life goes on – and I get relief. Even better, relationships stay intact!
Fear is another emotion that can stop you in your tracks. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Fear is meant to protect us. After all, you should be afraid of getting too close to a hungry mountain lion. On the other hand, much of the fear we experience in modern day life is created in our minds.
Let’s say for example, that you hate your job and you desperately want to quit, but you’re afraid that you won’t get another one. Is that really true? How do you know? Your fear indicates that you anticipate a negative outcome. Rather than ignore that thought, can you transform it into positive action? Try breaking your fear down into understandable pieces and turning it into to-do steps that lead you to your heart’s desire. In the example above, you might make a list that includes doing research, networking, getting training, saving money so you can quit, and updating your resume.
In short, get curious about your feelings. Don’t just stuff them and don’t feel compelled to react to them right away. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but it won’t kill you. Feelings give you the opportunity to understand what you need and to examine what you’re thinking. It’s worth it. The first step to getting what you want, is knowing what that is. Feelings, especially the hard ones, can be your guide.