Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.
“You make me feel . . .” – we say that because we just KNOW that how well we do in life is somehow linked to the impact others have on us. That’s why it often seems as though we are on a roller coaster and someone – ANYONE – other than us – is in control of the ride.
V. Higgins – “Emotions . . . come up unexpectedly and seem overwhelming”
One of Simple Marriage’s basic premises is that
- Human potential is shaped by human interaction.
We humans are a part of nature and we are ruled by the same forces that drive nature.
- In nature, emotions and the emotional systems are automatic, instinctual reactions to real, patterned, or imagined threats.
- Emotions are designed to preserve the species, protect the social unit, and promote procreation.
- They are the driving biological force that shapes relationship patterns.
Our need for relationships creates the human paradox – we need enough togetherness to survive and enough separateness to thrive. Every baby’s life was conceived in togetherness and born into separateness – the first and most powerful example of our lifelong struggle to be connected to the most important people in our life while becoming a self-determined, goal-directed individual.
As Lori said, “There is a balance that needs to happen!”
Emotions are our body’s physiological, automatic, instinctive reaction to threats –
- the real ones, like physical harm or danger
- the patterned ones, like being hit or yelled at for spilling milk
- the imagined ones, like fear of something never experienced
So when you stick your hand in the campfire roasting marshmallows, your primitive brain has an automatic, instinctive, reaction [emotion] designed to preserve the species by keeping you alive, protect your family [present or future] and make it possible for you to have babies by keeping you from being burned.
We don’t have control over our emotions – by definition they are automatic, instinctive, reactions! A life driven by emotional reactivity becomes the out of control roller coaster.
From Starrlife “feelings, emotions and cognition . . .We tend to mush them altogether, verbally and experientially.”
From Jennifer – “My feelings may be based on gut, on intuition and not always be rational. They are tied to my emotions, to my past… As for the difference between emotions and feelings, I’d say emotions are more general . . .”
Right on, Jennifer! Our feelings are tied to our emotional reaction of being threatened. Our gut intuition is NOT rational – it’s just a reaction – kind of like when you hit your kneecap and your leg jumps out. And the difference between our emotions and our feelings is that link. So what the heck is the link?
Heather’s on to the idea – “. . . thoughts (which for me are logical) can influence feelings, but it takes control.”
Our feelings are our intellectual awareness of our emotions. We construct our feelings by the meaning we attach to an emotional reaction. We have choice when it comes to feelings. Without our thoughts, we can’t experience our feelings – we’re just reacting. Without our thoughts, our alligator brain is running the show.
Our thoughts represent our unique capacity for self-awareness – our ability to know and understand the world around us and in us. The thoughts we choose to explain our emotional reactivity create our feelings.
- Whatever you think about, you bring about.
- Whatever you focus on, grows.
- Energy follows thought.
Here’s an example to help clarify:
I take my three year old granddaughter in the front yard to garden with me and I tell her, “Don’t go in the street. Stay by me.” As I’m busy digging weeds, a butterfly comes along and my granddaughter follows the butterfly into the street, just as a car is coming.
My alligator brain – the one designed to preserve, protect and procreate – wants my gene pool to live on, so I experience an emotional [automatic, instinctive] reaction that propels me into the street to save my DNA, also known as my granddaughter.
I did not stop to think before I reacted –
“Can I make it before the car gets there?”
“What if I get hurt?”
I just ran.
Now I’m sitting safely on the curb and my brain is beginning to create meaning from the intense emotional reaction my body has experienced. The reality of the threat to me and my granddaughter is sinking in and I am flooded with emotions – fear, relief, anger, gratitude, etc. Here’s where choice comes in.
The thoughts I have will create my feelings. If I grew up in a family that values obedience over all, [a pattern] I may FEEL angry at my granddaughter for disobeying me. If spanking is the way I learned to instill obedience, I may choose to hit my granddaughter based on my feeling of anger. If I decided as an adult that I did not want to hit children, I can choose to override that pattern with my awareness, “I don’t have to do what was done to me – I have choice.”
Our reality always comes from what is happening within us [interaction between our emotions, thoughts, and feelings] and between us and other people.
Learning how to tune in to the interplay between our emotions, thoughts, and our feelings is the definition of what it means to grow up – to become emotionally mature. Emotional maturity is knowing the difference between fact and feeling in responding to emotional issues.
It’s a conscious choice to act responsibly [choosing our best thoughts to create meaning] instead of reactively [emotions in charge].
Spend a day doing research on yourself. Notice how often during a day you get hi-jacked by your emotions. Pay attention to the thoughts and meanings you attach to your emotional reactions. Experiment with choosing different thoughts – the ones that rise to the best in you – and observe what happens to your feeling state.
Then post the results of your experiment in the comments and tell us what it’s like to have your feelings, instead of them having you!
Lagniappe: [French for something extra, unexpected]
If you’re describing a true feeling, it can be done with one word.
- I feel excited, lonely, confident, weak, fearful – etc.
- I’m irritated, disappointed, frustrated, exhilarated – etc.
When “I feel” is followed by
- that . . . you should know better
- like . . . a failure
- as if . . . I don’t matter
- pronouns . . . you don’t care
- names, nouns . . . my boss is a jerk
these are expressions of opinion, judgment, or manipulation.
Amy – “It’s okay to feel lonely, afraid, or hurt, but you have to own those feelings as your own without blaming them on others.”