People who have feelings . . .

Research is discovering that we decide what to think and then look for reasons to believe that what we already think is true.  In other words, we don’t make decisions or have opinions because of facts, reason or logic.  We use facts, reasons and logic to support what we’ve already decided.  So if it’s not reason that we are using to make our decisions and form our opinions, what are we using to decide?  Emotions.  This isn’t a mistake or a problem – it seems to be how we are designed to function.  And it’s suprisingly effective system.  People with brain damage which prevents them from experience emotions tend to make terrible decisions and really struggle to function.

The problem is that most of us have completely untrained emotions.  Spend an hour with a baby or small child and you will see that humans are born with very strong emotions that are mostly pointed in the wrong directions.  It takes time, effort and attention to train our emotions to respond accurately to the world as it is.  Then, our emotions can be trusted with doing a better job pointing us towards the best decisions, opinions and attitudes for us.

Of course, many of us avoid emotions as much as possible which makes it difficult to even begin to train them  So, the first task is just to take note of our emotions.

Take a day that you know should be pretty low-key and try to pay attention to your feelings for that day.  Ask yourself frequently, “what am I feeling right now?”  Label your emotions: “I am happy, bored, angry . . . “  Try to find more precise descriptions of your emotions if you can.  “I am thrilled, restless, appalled . . . “ Identify things that are triggering your emotions.  The point isn‘t necessarily to change anything right away..  You are just trying to get used to noticing and feeling what your emotions are communicating to you.  Keep practicing whenever you can and in time you will start to notice patterns and problems that you can correct.  But first, just get used to actually noticing your feelings at all.

For a book with some really useful ideas about what to do with all those feelings, check out Much Ado About Feelings.

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Much-Ado-About-Feelings

Much to my family of origin’s dismay, sometimes my life is weird.  And interesting.

For example, earlier this year I had a chance to learn massage therapy from a crazy, old, hippy, Christian massage and hypnotherapist.  He was a bit of a charlatan and con-artist, but a pretty sincere one.  If you asked him, he would tell you the color of your aura, how many angels were following you and that he saw numbers around and over people that told him if you were being true to yourself or not.  (Pretty easy to do – 90% of people aren’t true to themselves!)  His 3 most fervent beliefs would be (in this order):

1. That every human needs to be in relationship with Jesus.

2. That  everyone needs to undergo hypnotherapy (which he calls the deepest form prayer) in order to be set free spiritually and emotionally.

3. That Americans need to be freed from their government.

Did I mention that he spent years living in a nudist camp and believes we’ll all be nudists after Jesus returns?  (Although he never doffed his clothes at the shop unless he was getting a massage.)  And he has an IQ of 160 (according to him and I’d pretty much believe it).  There’s more, but really he’s not the main point of the post.  Its just that he is too weird and wonderful not to share!

The real point of this post is a book that he gave me to read while working with him by Carl Banyan (a highly respected hypnotherapy instructor) which I think is just genius.  It’s called The Secret Language of Feelings A Rational Approach to Emotional Mastery.  In it, Banyan provides the best explanation of our feelings and how to deal with them that I have ever read.  I really do recommend reading the book, but I wanted to share a couple of the core ideas from the book here.

Basically, Banyan explains that our emotions are like warning lights on a car’s dash.  They are there to tell us something, but most of us don’t know what they are trying to tell us.  (One of my sisters made my brother check her car once because there was a constantly flashing light on the dash and it was making her very nervous to drive the car like that.  It was the seat belt light.  Again, not really relevant, but funny.)  So we do our best to ignore the light or make it go away. Maybe top off the fluids and check the gas cap to see if that helps.

What we need to do and teach our children to do, Banyan says, is learn to recognize those feelings, understand what it is meant to communicate, evaluate if the feeling is pointing in the right direction, if there is a possible solution or if you just need to accept the situation, at least temporarily.  He says, “Emotion is pure motivation.  It’s a psychological pressure to act.”  In the book he goes through the basic emotional responses we have, what each is trying to tell us and how to respond productively.  Again, you’d need to read the book for all the details, but a couple of examples of the basic emotions and their messages are these:

1. Anger.  Could also be experienced as hurt or irritation.  Meant to alert you to the possibility that you are being mistreated and need to stand up for yourself.  When you are angry, you should first check if your anger is justified and if there is a solution.  If it’s not justified or you can’t change the situation at the moment, let it go.  If you can do something, do it.

2. Sad.  Sad is telling you that you have suffered a loss.  Sometimes the loss is obvious like the death of a loved one.  Sometimes its a bit more subtle like if something you believed is shown to be false.  Again, the questions are focused on making sure the matter is worth the emotion, seeing if there is anything to be done, and learning how to move on if not.

Emotions are so important to our experience of life.  Part of our culture’s obsessive quest for material prosperity is that demonstrating mastery of money and acquiring something new are quick-fix ways of distracting or comforting ourselves from emotions we don’t know how to deal with.  On  the other hand, a person who has mastered their emotions will be able to enjoy their lives in meager circumstances or in times of plenty.

When I read this book, I was rather stunned at the wisdom and practical instructions found in it.  This is one of those rare books that pretty much every human being would benefit from reading.  Parents in particular will be able to put the information here to good use by teaching their kids what all the lights on the dashboard mean and how to deal with them.  And if anyone needs a massage or some hypnotherapy, I know a very good, albeit rather kooky one just down the road! 😉

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