Everyone wants control over their emotions, especially unpleasant ones. However, what most people think is under the control of emotions, in fact, is not real control, but it could rather be called resistance or internal struggle with their own emotions. When unpleasant feelings arise, most people resist them, try to suppress them, divert attention (to avoid them), analyze feelings or themselves, indulge in imaginations that accompany that feeling, which leads to catastrophizing, dramatizing … All of you maneuvers, in fact, do not represent real control, but internal struggle, which leads to the person being in conflict with himself. This internal struggle leads to unpleasant internal tension, anxiety, and persistence of unpleasant feelings.
How can we really control our feelings?
We cannot squeeze emotions out of our lives, we cannot live life without any feelings, because feelings are part of human nature. But that does not mean that we should live in drama, that is, to be constantly emotionally reactive and often experience intense feelings. We can learn how to deal with feelings so that they are the spice of our lives, but not the master.
Feelings appear spontaneously and automatically, that is, unconsciously. This means that we cannot prevent their occurrence. But when feelings arise and we become aware of them, we can do some things that will lead to us having control over them, which will make us not fall into the fire. Working with many people and with myself (my most difficult client), I came to the realization that there are four basic principles we need to apply in order to gain control over our own feelings when they arise.
The first principle – distancing, non-identification, feelings are not me
The first principle implies that when a strong, usually negative feeling arises, we keep the awareness that it is only a feeling, and not reality, and secondly, that this feeling is not a feature of my identity, my self. When intense negative but also positive feelings arise, people automatically direct all their attention to them and this can lead to the person having an authentic experience that it is a reality. This feeling is a consequence of narrowed attention. Attention is otherwise a limited resource and even when one narrows down to one experience or idea it becomes an authentic and powerful feeling that is automatically equated with reality. A good example of this is watching a movie in a movie theater. When you watch an interesting movie in the cinema, you become so absorbed that in some moments your attention is so absorbed that in those moments the movie is the only reality for you. Then you experience emotions and you have the experience as if you are watching the reality in which you are participating.
Why is this happening? This happens because the attention is narrowed and completely focused on the film, and because of that, the ability of critical thinking on the basis of which we would make a critical distance towards what we experience and perceive is reduced. However, if during the film, I remind myself that it’s just a movie, make a distance and remind myself that I’m sitting in the cinema, all the “magic” disappears. I can do the same when I feel some intense unpleasant feelings. I can remind myself that these are just feelings, not reality and that I am not that feeling. I experience that feeling, but I am not that feeling because that feeling is just a learned reaction that I have learned, practiced, and reinforced for a long time, but that feeling says nothing about me as a person and who I am. Remember, you are not one of your feelings, whatever that feeling may be. Feelings are just learned (usually childish) automated reactions to certain meanings that you attach to events inside or outside of you.
The second principle – unrealistic demands, desires, expectations
Feelings can be the result of your unrealistic demands on yourself, the world, or others. If a feeling persists and will not pass, you ask yourself what is it that I demand now from myself / others / the world? Ask yourself if this is realistic and if you need to have/achieve it? When you realize that you do not need it or it is not even realistic, give up that request and you will notice that unpleasant, intense feelings disappear.
The third principle – not resisting, accepting, surrendering
The third principle is as important as the first. When any feeling arises, we should resist it, neither mentally nor physically, if we want to really have control over it. If we resist the feeling, it will turn into an internal conflict that will result in internal tension (anxiety) and the unpleasant feeling will last significantly longer than it would last without resistance. If we do not resist a feeling at all, it cannot last more than 90 seconds. If it lasts longer, it means that we continue to resist, we deal with that feeling or thoughts that appear within that feeling.
I can resist physically and mentally. Mental resistance means analyzing that feeling while it lasts, and physical resistance means squeezing and/or restricting breathing in order to reduce the feeling in the body itself. It doesn’t need to work!
When a feeling arises, do not analyze it or mentally deal with it until it stops. You can do the analysis when the feeling stops if you think it is important to you. At the level of the body, recognize where the tensions and tensions are in the body and willingly release them as much as you can, exhale slowly and to the end, and indulge your feelings, simply tolerate what you are feeling. No feeling in itself is unpleasant. What is uncomfortable and painful is the resistance to those feelings, not the feelings themselves.
The fourth principle – non-survival
Most people tend to almost automatically indulge in thoughts and imaginations that are an integral part of a feeling. By immersion, I mean dealing with those thoughts and imaginations, imagining what would happen if it were, and the like. When you do that, you actually deepen that feeling, give it importance, support it. No learned reaction can survive as lasting if it is not tolerated over time. Feelings are learned automatic reactions that you have repeated and reinforced many times in your life and that is why they have become so automated. If you want to overcome them, stop supporting them. Reinforcement is attention. As soon as I indulge in something, I give it my full attention, which means that I attach extraordinary importance to it.
I only pay attention to what I consider important. What is unimportant to me, I do not pay attention to at all, do I? Apply it to the feelings you want to overcome. When a feeling arises, you will of course become aware of that feeling and experience it, but do not go beyond that. Tolerate the feeling (do not resist it), remind yourself that you are not that feeling, and do not indulge in that feeling. Do not indulge in the thoughts and imaginations that accompany that feeling, because those thoughts are only the cognitive part of that feeling. These thoughts and imaginations are not a reflection of reality or your personality, your identity – they are a reflection of that feeling as you learned to react.
By engaging in these thoughts, you maintain and reinforce that feeling. Don’t do that, let your thoughts come and go on their own, but without you actively dealing with them and enjoying them. If you do, you will soon notice that they begin to weaken, fade and pass along with the feeling that accompanies them. You don’t have to observe those thoughts, you just don’t have to do anything with them, just let them come and go. Treat them like the unimportant noise you are currently hearing.
It is very important that you apply all four principles because they are all equally important. Also, it is very important that you do it whenever you feel an unwanted feeling. Be persistent and persistent. If you sometimes fail to apply it, it is not the end of the world, do it next time. Simply, practice and be persistent, it will bring results.
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