Do you recognize what feelings drive your actions? There are some which may appear more obvious to you, such as anger, fear, sadness, sympathy, jealousy, frustration, and safety, among others–if you take the time to stop and look. Even with some awareness, all too often you feel the feeling and act on it before you pause and reflect, because the feelings are so strong and compelling you need to do anything rather than live with the discomfort.
You also likely have a long history of responding to those feelings in certain ways, so it has become a habit and therefore more automatic. You might only have a fleeting sense of the feeling, not even labeling it, before you jump into action.
Have you stopped to think about how well your process works? Do you get the desired effect/outcome from acting out of fear, anger, jealousy, or frustration? If you do stop to evaluate your behavior, do you say to yourself, “I wish I had done something different”?
Even with less compelling feelings such as sympathy or sadness, do your actions produce the results you want? You might get an immediate reward of appreciation from the other person, and that can be enough to reinforce the behavior–even if the response is not genuine! Do you consider the long term effects of these responses? For example, regularly expressing sympathy may encourage the other person to come to you with their tales of woe more often. They may even see you as the go-to person who will always be there to rescue them from their distress. For some people who feel like victims, this can create a dependency that is not healthy for them or for you. I’m not suggesting you avoid expressing sympathy; simply to develop an understanding of how much and how often this action is appropriate and beneficial to the giver and receiver.
Some feelings you have may or may not be easily recognized. They will be less accessible, such as feelings of loss of control, insecurity, powerlessness, envy, or intimidation among others. These are often secondary emotions–they arise from deeper emotions you have lived with a long time for which you haven’t developed sufficient awareness or satisfying coping mechanisms. One example might be attempting to control another person or situation as a remedy to feeling helpless.
Anger is often described as a “second emotion.” It usually stems from frustration, helplessness, disappointment or fear. Expressing those underlying feelings may make you feel too vulnerable–and that is a fear in itself. Anger can seem safer, or it can result from a build-up of frustration or other feelings that reach the boiling point. For some, the expression of anger itself is scary and and so it is avoided and creates internal stress. The build-up of stress in your system will have emotional as well as physical consequences.
Any given feeling can be more or less recognizable to you, depending on your history: 1. In your family of origin, which emotions were rewarded or punished?
2. How were emotions dealt with in your family?
3. How vulnerable do you allow yourself to be, and in what situations?
4. When faced with a difficult situation, where do you focus your attention (on best solutions, blaming the other person, blaming yourself, feeling helpless)?
In subsequent blogs, I will break this down even further, and explore some of the behaviors we use to manage our feelings. We will also look at how well those behaviors work for you, and what are some other options that will produce more effective results.
For now, the first step is to practice more awareness of what feelings you do have, how you express–or avoid expressing them, and paying attention to the results of your actions.
Consider this a “scientific” experiment–to be an observer, to notice with the objective of learning, without judgment, so you can achieve clarity and benefit from the experience.