So many thoughts and feelings, so little time. Or, so many thoughts and feelings, so MUCH time would be more accurate. We find ourselves with a lot of thinking time, filling in all of the spaces left void by canceled vacations, no social events, and little else on the schedule except for a date with your kids and Monopoly Deal. Thinking time shouldn’t be feared. After all, we are usually starved for the moments in our day when we can have the deep thoughts. As a parent, I feel like we are starved for time when we just have any independent, uninterrupted thoughts!
So why should this “free” time to lean in to our feelings be treated as anything other than a gift? Because who wants to be left with just their thoughts? And scarier still, who wants to be left with all of those feelings? I know. Egad.
Leaning in to our feelings is just a way of saying we should feel them and experience them fully. Leaning in is acknowledging not only the existence of the feelings, but their place in our life at that point in time. So often the messaging around feelings is to suppress them, or ignore them. We are supposed to do our best to just avoid feeling the hard stuff that we inevitably confront, some of us more than others. Why should we lean in to feeling when those feelings just don’t feel very good? Because the consequences for doing otherwise are grave.
One common example of failing to lean in to feelings is related to eating habits. People call themselves emotional eaters. They declare “I eat when I’m anxious. I eat when I’m upset. I eat when I” fill in the blank. Emotional eaters are in essence replacing confronting their feelings with finding something to nibble on. It is a very common strategy. Most of us don’t know what to do with the feelings we either don’t understand, or worse, don’t want to feel in that moment. And our efforts to suppress them usually cause harm. Emotional eating and drinking is just one way. But feeling avoidance also takes the form of other maladaptive behaviors, like negative self-talk. We believe that we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way so we admonish ourselves for daring to go there. We might even hide our feelings by lashing out at the world - senseless arguments, minor agitations turned colossal in the blink of an eye, and other over-dramatic, under-evaluated decisions that are all a result of a failure to allow ourselves to experience the true feelings that are occurring in that moment.
Remember that feelings need not be framed in terms of right or wrong. Feelings just are. You don’t need to find fault with yourself or others for feeling angry or sad or upset. Feelings are there and come about as a result of what we are thinking. We need to get out of the habit of qualifying our feelings and attempting to suppress them, or hide them, because we have decided them to be wrong, or an error. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to change the way we feel. And the way to do that is to change what we are thinking, not pretending what we have felt just doesn’t exist.
Let’s start there, with evaluating our thoughts. This is tricky because we have to believe and understand that all of our feelings are generated from our own thoughts. The world, experiences, other people and other actions from the people around us are actually neutral. What we THINK about those things is how we end up feeling a certain way. Feelings belong to us and are generated by our own thoughts. There is absolutely no one else responsible. Following that logic, if we feel a certain way, it is because of what we are thinking. Ignoring the feeling is in essence ignoring our own thoughts. And we should never be in the business of ignoring our own thoughts.
Here is a link to a very complete list of feelings that I use as a reference guide. Download it, print it, and post it somewhere easily accessible. Get in the habit of exploring how you are feeling, beyond just “sad” or “mad”. Fine tune your vocabulary about feelings so you can start to understand them better, and better yet, understand where they are coming from. Lean in to how you are feeling instead of attempting to ignore it, or beat it into submission with maladaptive behaviors. And once the feeling is identified, search deeper for the thoughts that created that feeling to begin with. Reframe your thoughts. Only then can you actually change the way you feel in a meaningful way.
Our feelings matter. All of them. Don’t allow yourself to buy into any narrative that suggests you shouldn’t feel a certain way, or you are somehow wrong to have certain feelings. They are part of your complete experience as a human, so good, bad or indifferent, they are rightfully yours. Take stock of them and start learning to identify them, understand from where they came, and be brave enough to feel them as only you can.