I am angry - my colleague spoke to me so rudely
My boss is always putting me down – I feel so small
I feel my mother is so judgemental of me – I wish she would just listen to my issues
Where do you think the problem really lies? Is it the colleague who is rude, the boss who is critical or the mother who is judgemental? Do we feel what we feel because of another person? They make us feel the way we do? He makes me happy, she makes me mad – BUT do they really? Can anyone make ME feel a certain way? Can an event or a situation in my life cause me to feel a certain way. Then, by that reasoning we would all feel the same way about the same situation wouldn’t we … but we don’t.
Lets illustrate this with an example. There is a crisis at work and has to be resolved immediately. A person could have any one of these responses:
I am irritated, why does this always happen to me?
Crisis do come up and it gives me an opportunity to learn how to handle it and grow.
That stupid manager, he bungled it up and now I have to sort it out.
I am so grateful that I have an understanding wife who will not complain when I reach home at 12 or maybe later after seeing this through.
“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it” to quote Dr. Stephen Covey. It is our self-concept, how we think about ourselves and how we view the world & life, that directly influences the way we feel about any event, a situation, or a person and our choices. It is our self-concept (how we think we are and how we think life is), our beliefs and our expectations that create feelings in us. And from those feelings come our responses/reactions. In the same situation, two people tend to feel very differently and depending on how they feel, they react differently. Therefore our feelings about any event are not imbedded or inherent in the situation itself – wouldn’t you agree?
We feel a certain way about ourselves and about life and that forms the basis of our relationships with people and with life. It is our very own individual perspective. So therefore it is important that we start taking ownership of how we feel - what we are feeling and why. Dr Ornish writes “when you take time for your feelings, you become less stressed and you can think more clearly and creatively, making it easier to find constructive solutions. Allowing yourself to build an emotional vocabulary is a good (FIRST) step in being able to understanding feelings better. It often helps to assign a feeling word to the emotion you wish to express. Examples include feeling anxious, worried, happy, confused, left out, frustrated, peaceful, determined, relieved, joyous etc. By using this format, you learn about yourself by uncovering and expressing the emotions that are fueling your behavioral choices”.
Acknowledging and addressing our emotions is as important to our mental as well as physical well-being. There is a high cost to avoiding our feelings.
While it is empowering to do that, at the same time this doesn’t mean that once we label our emotions and tell ourselves that we should start thinking positively that we will not have the same old reactions of anger, hurt or pain. Or we tell ourselves we can talk ourselves out of our reactions – It would be like telling a person who is feeling sad ‘don’t be sad’ can that person just stop feeling sad – we do not have a remote control that can switch on or switch off our emotions, our feelings at will.
We all have a set of beliefs, a self-concept, which we are carrying from a very young age. If we are experiencing constant negative feelings or find that we are being overly self-critical, or reactive in certain situations, it is important for us to start working on having healthy thought patterns - to identify the thought patterns which are causing us to feel ‘the hurt, the anger, the ‘small feeling’ the ‘ emptiness’ , ‘’feeling judged’’ etc etc. These feelings are not being generated by the situations but by our beliefs about ourselves in relation to our own selves and others.
Getting to reach which belief is causing us to feel a certain way is painstaking work – it requires constant awareness and a willingness to ask yourself “why am I feeling the way I am – what is this feeling saying to me’ and slowly you will be able to uncover one layer. Beneath which there may be several more before you get to the root of the belief. A small example here can help illustrate this – I always thought I was not curious and for that reason I did not like to ask questions. This quality started hampering my work as a new counsellor, with my supervisor asking me why I did not ask the client this or that – I had ready answers – It didn’t strike me, I don’t like to seem overly curious or there did not seem any need. I started noticing that this quality of mine pervaded all areas and I started looking more deeply – first answers that came were superficial – I don’t like curious people, I don’t like to pry as I don’t like people to pry into my personal life. With my torch constantly on this I woke up one morning to this awareness that I don’t want people thinking I am dumb so I avoid asking questions – My fear of your judging me as dumb stopped me from asking questions – I had to show that I had understood it all. As an adult I know I am intelligent but this belief obviously got formed in childhood and lay buried without my knowledge till it came to light and I now, with awareness, could correct it.
And while this may sound easy, it is painstaking work and therefore doing this work with the help of a therapist makes it simpler. So next time anybody or any situation makes you “feel miserable” give it a thought that you have the key to the pain you are experiencing and that the solution lies within you.