Emotions can feel like a freight train bearing down on us at 200 miles per hour. The sheer force of them is often enough to knock us down, causing us to gasp for breath if not struggle to think straight. In this state of rampant emotion, we often make decisions, say things and act in ways not conducive with our core values.
During a recent Marriage Intensive the husband, Dan, stomped out of the room several times when his anger surged to the surface.
“I just have to get out of here,” he said, leaping off the couch and heading for the door.
His wife, Candace, shouted at him to stay, but he ignored her request. Our attempts to slow him down or dissuade him from leaving were ignored. He was mad and there was no way he could sit and talk about his feelings.
Candace had her own version of feelings gone wild. While she didn’t leap out of her chair in anger, she did bury her face in her hands with despair. Her feelings, too, had a force of their own. She distorted the present situation, only able to hear truth when she calmed down and listened carefully.
While not feeling enraged or despair, I can relate with both Candace and Dan. I’ve had episodes of grief in the past two years as my mother passed away, my mother-in-law has had serious health issues and my good friend fought a victorious battle against cancer twice. There were times when the situation looked bleak, when I sobbed uncontrollably at surprising moments.
Emotions—energy in motion—seem to have a life of their own. We’re never sure what will trigger them or how they will be expressed. If we haven’t cultivated the art of understanding our emotions, they can take us by surprise. If we haven’t come to understand our emotions, they can be denied and then well up within us, bursting onto the scene in awkward moments. Sometimes we deny them for so long we hardly know they are there, causing another set of problems—primarily a disconnection from ourselves and others.
As I talked to Dan about his anger, he clearly had little understanding of the triggers to his outbursts, nor any way of effectively talking about it.
“The only training I have is from my dad,” he said. “Dad would get mad and stomp around the house. We never knew what was going to set him off. He sure never learned to sit down and tell us what was really bothering him.”
Candace was equally uncomfortable with her despair.
“I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” she said. “I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I don’t know why these feelings come over me the way they do.”
I’ve become more familiar and kind to my feelings. I have embraced my feelings of grief for my mother and the illness of my good friend. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by my tears. In fact, I like to be comforted when I’m in a ‘blue mood’ from my losses. But it has taken me time to tend to these feelings, and many are not as kind to their emotions.
Let’s consider some ways to slow down your feelings so you can accept, understand and tend to these integral parts of your nature.
First, accept that feelings are a natural part of our nature. We have been created with emotions and they are good. God created us in His image, and we know that Christ had a full range of emotions. Emotions play an important function in our lives and must be accepted.
Second, our emotions are instructive. Different emotions offer us different information. For example, sadness often suggests we have losses that must be grieved. Anger, usually considered a secondary emotion, suggests we are threatened in some way and need to make changes in our life. Fear suggests we may be experiencing some danger and must be more alert to what is happening.
Third, we must be aware of the triggers to our feelings. While it may seem like our emotions erupt out of thin air, that is not usually the case. Our feelings are a response to some triggering event and a way of interpreting those events.
Pay close attention to understand your emotions better. Begin journaling or spend times in reflection to gain a deeper understanding of what is happening to cause your specific emotions. Attend to your thoughts, considering how you are interpreting events in your life.
Fourth, embrace your feelings. As you accept your feelings, you will begin to notice subtle changes in them. You will gain greater clarity and awareness of what situations cause what feelings. You will actually gain greater mastery over your emotions as you tend to them, discovering ways of expressing them in a healthy manner.
Fifth, practice the tool of ‘slicing it thinner.’ This means taking your feelings and looking below the surface. Ask yourself, “What else might I be feeling?” Gently ask yourself “Why am I feeling this way?” Sit with your feelings and allow yourself to simmer in them. They will gain greater clarity as you do this. Calm yourself by sitting quietly, reflecting on what is happening. Examine your thoughts to ensure you are seeing things accurately.
Finally, share your feelings with others. There is something powerful about acknowledging, owning and sharing your feelings. As you stop labeling them as ‘bad’ or something to be pushed away, you give them permission to be. This takes the shame out of having them. Sharing them with others helps you feel less isolated, more understood and helps you make better choices about how to express them.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.