Emotions My Enemy Pt. 1: Feelings vs. Actions

In my last post I wrote about self-awareness and the method I use to increase it. If you had an opportunity to check-in with yourself this past week, then you may have experienced thoughts and feelings that you never knew existed. If this was your experience, you’re probably wondering what to do with all of these emotions!

Many of us have never been shown how to manage our emotions in a healthy way. We often learn whether what we feel is good or bad by the reaction of other people. Good or acceptable emotions, tend to be those that make others feel the most comfortable when they are in our presence. Some examples of these emotions are happiness, joy, peacefulness, or excitement. On the other hand bad or unacceptable emotions, tend to be those that cause others to feel discomfort such as sorrow, mourning, bitterness, or anger.

Labeling emotions as “good” or “bad,” limits our ability to both experience them fully and manage them effectively. As a result, our default emotion lies somewhere in the middle. How many of you when asked how you are doing, simply reply with, “I’m fine.” I have definitely been guilty of that!

So what do we do? Do we stay stuck in neutral– destined not feel any emotions at all?

Feelings vs. Actions
What if our emotions were not the enemy? What if we could befriend them instead? How might this change our experience with our emotions and the labels we assign to them?

I believe that this is not only possible but necessary in order to develop a healthy emotional life. In order to begin we must first understand two important things:

  • We should feel and experience all of our emotions as they are neither good nor bad
  • We should not act on all of these emotions in whichever way we choose

Understanding this is important because we are making a distinction between feelings vs actions.

American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon noted that when an animal was strongly aroused, its body created a chemical reaction to prepare it for an emergency response.  He was the first to observe and describe this phenomenon as “fight or flight.”  While first discovered in animals, this response has also been noted in humans under acute stress conditions.  I will now use a simple diagram to display how we engage the “fight or flight” response when dealing with our emotions.  Let’s use the emotion of anger for our example, as this is one that many of us struggle with.

If we are angry with a person our “fight or flight” reactions may look like the following:

graph

As you can see, both extremes can be damaging and ultimately leave the situation (and our emotions) unresolved.  Instead, we need to find a more balanced way to manage these emotions.

What has your experience been with your emotions?  Do you have a tendency towards one extreme or the other?  Have you already figured out how to befriend your emotions?

Next week I’ll share how we can find the balance and begin to  befriend our emotions.