It has been an emotional month for many people. From personal struggles such as illnesses and the start of a new school year to more widely renowned events such as the anniversary of the 9-11 attack, the suicide of Robin Williams and some high profile cases of domestic violence, there has been much fodder recently for your emotional reactions.
As both a coach and a counselor, I deal with the emotions of others every day. I hear the stories of a lot of people. And I see what works for others and what does not in how best to deal with your emotions.
Oprah says “This is what I know for sure”. What I know for sure about emotions is that they are a double edged sword. I also know that as the world becomes increasingly complicated, if you do not have the ability to handle your emotions well, then you are needlessly suffering.
Your emotions or feelings give you information. They tell you what is pleasing to you, when you might be in danger and where you need to pay more attention in order to thrive – among other things. That’s the upside of feelings… making life richer and making the navigation through life simpler.
The downside of emotions occurs though when we become reactionary to everything we feel. If I have said it to my clients once, I have said it a million times, “A feeling is not a fact.” This means that just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Think about a time you have been needlessly worried or a time when you have felt embarrassed to be seen doing a good deed. What you feel is not necessarily related to what is really happening.
I want you to be able to be intentional about emotions. Creating by intention the ones that you want to feel more often and intentionally feeling less of the ones that are hard for you. And I want you to be able to decide rationally how you want to behave – so your behavior is not based on whatever feeling comes along if that does not serve you.
This month’s Life Adventure Notes begins a series of issues centered around the importance of your emotions and how to gain control of them, how to express them and how all that shows to others in your behavior. Let’s make your emotions become your friends instead of something you are fighting.
The Taboo of Sadmess
No one talks about emotional struggles
The recent death of comedian Robin Williams by suicide shocked many people. Yet Robin had struggled for many years with both addiction and depression. Why were we surprised?
It’s so easy to look the other way when someone is struggling. When you are the one struggling, it always seems like imposing on someone else to ask for help. It can even feel like that when you are just thinking about telling someone what is wrong.
Our society lives in a state of false positive. You deny that you are struggling. The people you know look the other way at the violence, loneliness and shame that occurs daily in our culture. Everyone denies – on the surface – that things may not be great.
No one wants to be sad or lonely. It’s embarrassing to admit feeling that way. And yet those can be normal human emotions. It has come down to living in a world of people who don’t know what they are feeling, how to express it or even how to talk about it.
The world needs a refresher course in emotions.
Depression is not just a feeling
Let’s pause and state the difference between normal emotions and the type of serious depression that haunted Robin Williams. Clinical depression is not just another feeling. It is a physical condition where the brain is not producing the right chemicals to have a stable mood.
Often when a person is depressed, they are unable to reach out. Unable to ask for help. Unable to do the very things that could start them towards feeling better. So my request for you is that if there is someone in your life that you are concerned about, that you think may be suffering from depression, please talk to them.
Ask them about their mood. Ask about depression. Ask about thoughts of suicide. Believe me, no depressed person ever first thought of suicide because someone else asked them about it. You will lower the risk rather than raise it by being willing to talk about it.
Now to your feelings.
Emotions aren’t good and bad. They just are…
Every single one of the feelings you feel today or any day are perfectly natural. You were meant to have all of them. Here’s how to remember that:
Think about a time you have spent with an infant. Or get yourself some baby time if that has been lacking in your life. As you are with the child watch for emotions – they aren’t being expressed in words by someone this tiny…but every single emotion a person can have is there at some point. That baby is meant to have all of them. So are you.
None of your emotions are bad. Each one is natural and each one serves a purpose. Then why do normal emotions get labeled good and bad?
Here are the reasons:
You don’t like the way some of your emotions feel.
Other people don’t like you to feel certain things.
You do not handle some emotions well and act poorly when you feel them.
Don’t talk about it
To make all this worse, people no longer are comfortable talking about what they feel. When is the last time you had a conversation with someone about a feeling? We have made our feelings taboo – especially the “bad” ones like sadness. Instead, you tell people you are “fine” and put on a cheery face.
The feeling that is probably an exception to all this is anger. Lots of people are angry. Lots of people handle it badly. Lots of people talk about anger as a result of that. Honestly, it seems like anger is the only acceptable feeling these days.
Ways out of the emotional dilemma
There are three things that must happen to turn around our increasing isolation from our feelings – from our actual humanness.
1. Learn to express your feelings appropriately.
2. Be open to discussing your feelings with others. (Men- not manly)
3. Teach your children well.
In learning to express your emotions, the first step may be just to identify what it is that you are feeling. Try to increase your vocabulary of words that describe your feelings and pay attention to the subtle differences between the ones that seem the same.
As for expressing them appropriately, if the feeling you identify is mad or angry, you most likely need to wait to express this feeling until you calm down. Otherwise, start your expression with this sentence:
I feel ___(insert name of emotion here)___ because __(explain the source of your feeling)__.
It can be as simple as that to get started.
Conversations about feelings are one of the quickest ways to strengthen a relationship. When you talk about your feelings, you are being vulnerable and allowing the other person to get to know you more. It may seem to some men that it is awkward or not a “manly” thing to do, but it is one of the best ways to start having more feelings that you actually enjoy.
Expressing your feelings well is a skill that you need to be using to live a happy life.
Teach your children well
Young children have the entire range of feelings, but they do not always have the words to describe what they feel or to express the feeling appropriately. Often then they act out their feelings in very physical and inappropriate ways.
Parents need to spend time helping their kids learn about feelings. Help them learn different feeling words and encourage them to talk about their emotions. (Make sure you also are talking about yours too.) Teach your children a variety of ways to deal with feelings and talk them through specific examples from their lives. Encourage your children to talk about all their feelings whether you consider them bad or good. The more practice your children has in identifying and expressing emotions in positive and healthy ways, the more prepared they are for the world.
Changing for the better
The more of us that are capable and willing to talk about our feelings, the more it will enable others to do the same. Perhaps one of the many legacies of Robin Williams is that more of us will realize the importance of emotional expression. It’s one of those good things that can spread if we each do our parts. So I hope you will take some time to day to notice your feelings and express them in a way that works for you.
What emotions have you labeled “good” or “bad”? How can you get more comfortable with the “bad” ones?
Who in your life can you share your feelings with? Or (if you don’t have someone) who are you willing to try to share your feelings with?
What did you learn about feelings when you were a child? What would you like to believe about them now?
The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planers are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us to
to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bare the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand in the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.