Our feelings make us happy; they also make us unhappy. So we tend to relish the ones that feel good, and run away from the ones that don’t. The problem with such an approach is that we never learn how to deal with our uncomfortable feelings. And unbeknownst to us, they control us and run our lives.
A healthier approach is to get familiar with those uncomfortable feelings. So that we know how to deal with them when they come up, and we can help ourselves feel better.
A little child.
Have you been around a little child who has been up long past her bedtime? It’s all fun and games for a while. Then one little thing doesn’t go exactly her way, and a meltdown ensues.
There is a tantrum. Followed by tears. Followed by a parent telling her that she needs to go to bed. And a staunch refusal by the child to comply. Then there is a bigger tantrum. And there are more tears. Until finally, the parent carts the child off, and amidst uncontrolled tears she suddenly falls asleep.
The child gets exactly what she needs—sleep—but doesn’t know she needs. Luckily, her parent does. And she can move on to happier times.
Sometimes, I feel like that child.
Being your parent.
Except, my problems seem more complicated than just needing sleep (they aren’t always). And no one can make me feel better; because no one knows or can know what I need better than I. So if I want to feel good, I have to take charge of my own well being.
I have to be my parent. I have to figure out what my struggle is about. I have to figure out what I need to do make myself feel better. And I have to give it to myself.
To do that, I have to go deeper into my uncomfortable feelings. I have to approach them with a caring, but detached curiosity. Like a parent trying to solve a puzzle. Like a parent who loves their child and cares about her well being; and who is calmly trying to figure out what is wrong so that they can fix it.
This is how I do it.
First, I observe my feelings and try to name them. So I might say, “Hmm, I’m feeling anxious (or upset, stressed out, sad) right now. I wonder why.” An event usually triggers feelings so I try to identify the event. I may ask, “is it because ____ happened? No, that doesn’t feel right. What about _____? Maybe.” Sometimes, the answer is obvious. Other times, it is not. So I keep going until I find one that “clicks” with how I’m feeling.
Then I investigate why the event triggered uncomfortable feelings. I might say, “why is ____ making me feel this way? Am I telling myself a story about what it means? What is that story? Does it make me feel taken for granted? Insecure? Unloved? Or maybe I’m just feeling sick? Or tired?” Once again, I dig deeper until I find an answer that “clicks.”
Finally, I figure out what I can do to feel better. I might say, “Is the story I’m telling myself really true? Can I tell myself a different story that may also be true? Maybe I should talk to ______ so I can clarify what happened. Maybe I need to go out and see my friends. Or exercise. Or just rest a while.” When I’ve figured out what I need to do, I do it. And I am able to put myself in a better feeling state.
But there are a few caveats.
In a perfect world, my inner parent would always be in charge. But it is not a perfect world. I am still learning. So more often than I would like, the child in me takes over and struggles until my inner parent becomes aware of the struggle and fixes it. That is alright. Because it is better than living without that inner parent.
Then there are times when no matter how hard I try, I can’t figure my feelings out. So I ask someone who knows me well and who I trust for help. And we parent me together until I find a solution.
And finally at times, no solution feels right. Because when I dig deep, I find that the only thing that I want is for the triggering event to change. For the past to different. At those times, I gently remind myself that I can’t have what I want. And I give myself the next best fix.
Happier in the long run.
The more I practice living this way, the more comfortable I become with my uncomfortable feelings, and the more familiar I become with my triggers and emotional patterns. But more importantly, the more familiar I become with the solutions that work for me. So when I don’t feel good, I can quickly go to them and put myself in a better feeling state. And in the long run, my life feels more peaceful, and I am happier.