When we are courageous enough to be willing to be aware of our feelings, something big and very positive happens. It’s like a switch gets turned on, and it can’t be so easily turned off. And that’s a good thing.
Sometimes people fear feelings either because they were raised in families that didn’t express feelings or because they are afraid that if they allow themselves to feel even a little bit of feelings that a tidal wave of feelings will rush forward and drown them in uncontrollable emotions, which they imagine will be bad.
The good news is that isn’t what usually happens. And the even better news is that when we allow ourselves to have awareness of our feelings, we are even MORE in control of ourselves, not less in control. Losing control of oneself is a legitimate and common fear when someone considers increasing their own awareness of their feelings and then others’ feelings. There are fears of the above-mentioned mostly-fictional tidal wave, fears of being unable to remain poised, fears of becoming “soft” or a “doormat” or losing the ability to be assertive and strong in the world when necessary.
These are all understandable fears. However, this is what we know from decades of solid research, practice and observation: The more aware of our feelings we are, the better control we have over our lives, the better our interpersonal communications are, the better our relationships with others at home and at work are, and the better use of our own time, money, and other resources we make.
Think about it: Your spouse does something that annoys you. Instead of harshly snapping at him or her, you say to yourself, “I feel really annoyed by that. I know s/he doesn’t mean to annoy me. This is really about us sharing this space together. I do love him/her. However, it’s also really important to me that I tell her/him that I need more space in this closet, not today, but by the end of this week, if possible. I’m going to find the right time to say this and I’m going to say it in a way that will be best for our relationship because my only intention and need here is to have more space in the closet. I do NOT intend to make him/her feel badly, start a fight, or upset him/her. I will say something today, after breakfast, in a direct and gentle way”.
Similarly, this can be used at work, with friends, with kids – with anyone. Snapping at others can be an ingrained habit. But we can change our habits. We can choose to. We can tell those close to us that we’ve decided to change a habit and we can let them know we’re working on it, we may slip back, but we want them to know we’re trying and we’d like their support. Then, we can tell them what “support” means to us. Does it mean just smiling lovingly at us when we backslide? Does it mean gently pointing out to us that we slid back into the habit we’re trying to break in case we didn’t notice? Does it mean just remaining silent and letting us work on it but with us just knowing this is important? Does it mean just having them tell us they appreciate that we’re working on this and maybe why they appreciate it?
The other side of this is that we can make requests of others. We can request that our partner become more aware of his or her feelings. We can request that they support us as we become more aware of ours. We can request a 5-minute check-in time once a day or once a week. We can choose how we’ll deal with our feelings and their feelings.
We can then realize that all of these feelings require room. We must make room for these feelings, which may at first sound like a chore of some kind. However, once we realize that making room for these feelings – yours and those of others – prevents arguments, conflicts, and misunderstandings, you realize that it’s not a chore at all. It’s prevention. It’s a deepening of the reality and experiences you share together in this thing called life which is made of smaller moments all linked together – eating breakfast, taking the recycling out, having time apart and together and with friends, keeping the house orderly, deciding how to spend money or leisure time, organizing a trip, negotiating use of the computer or the bathroom or the tv. This is life. When we can do all of these things with greater awareness of our feelings, we simply do all of these things in ways that are better for ourselves and better for our partners and families.
When we are smart enough to refine these skills and bring them into the workplace in appropriate ways, we are more likely and able to get our workplace needs met also – enough time to complete projects, the schedule we need, the support and collaboration from others we need, the trainings and tools we need to be successful, and anything else we may want or need. There is no guarantee we’ll get all we want and need, but knowing that we’ve identified our needs and wants and have skillfully asked for them to be met is a very good way to make peace with our needs whether they’ve been met or not.
This one tiny change – I commit to being aware of my feelings and to expressing them skillfully – at the right time and in the best way for everyone – will yield HUGE positive changes in our lives.
If you want to know more about further developing these skills, read about Emotional Intelligence, Non-Violent Communication, and Conflict Resolution. Some recommended books are:
When Anger Scares You, Getting to Yes, The EQ Edge, Non-Violent Communication, and Coach Yourself to Success
Until next time,