Skill #5 Decide to Take Charge of Your Feelings.
No one can “make” you feel anything. You choose to feel whatever you feel, moment to moment. While some feelings arise automatically as important survival mechanisms based in the central nervous system, just as many are heavily influenced by television shows, song lyrics, films and books, and the ingrained attitudes of those around us. But even when we feel like we’ve been taken over by “negative” emotions, it is still our choice to feel overwhelmed by them.
Often these reactive emotions represent cultural assumptions that are not necessarily true or in our best interest. For example, we all “know” that we should feel devastated when a lover leaves or someone dies. Says who? Is it a law of nature? Or, do we feel as bad as we do because we’ve rehearsed such responses hundreds or thousands of times as we reactively borrowed the grief of our family, friends or fictional characters?
That’s not to say that sadness, grief and other natural emotions should be judged as wrong or bad. (Remember, whatever you judge as bad, you are stuck with.) But, ask yourself if your feelings are truly in sync with the reality of the situation. Are you exercising your own power to heal and reflect in ways that increase your love and understanding? When your general well-being begins to suffer unreasonably, it may be time to reassess the situation and the reasons why you can’t let go of certain feelings and responses.
Sometimes feelings seem to come in layers. Anger, for example, often overlays remorse, shame or some other feeling we really don’t want to face. Other times, feelings such as guilt and grief seem to mix. Whatever emotional experience you’re having, simply acknowledging it as your creation is a first step forward.
Whenever we allow outside circumstances to dictate how we feel, we disempower ourselves. Never assume that you can’t choose to feel perfectly balanced—happy, grateful and confident– regardless of your current situation. If that feels like too much of a stretch for you, allow your current emotions to run their course while recognizing you are in command of your own states of mind and emotion.
Frequently, emotional pain is caused by getting stuck in past memories or future worries. Often, the fast track to feeling better about anything at all is to rivet your attention to the present moment. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is an excellent reference book for this important skill. Another excellent resource for emotional self-empowerment is The Ultimate Guide to Happiness by Robert Scheinfeld, who instructs his readers to disengage from the “Mind Machine.” Way back in the 1970s, Carlos Casteneda shared how sorcerer Don Juan led him to freedom and empowerment by showing him how to stop his internal dialog.
One of the quickest, easiest ways to regain power when you’re feeling emotionally debilitated or out of control is to find something—anything—to feel grateful for. All of us always have access to gratitude.
“I was seriously freaked out by a recent family crisis. My wife and daughter had a horrible fight and I was right in the middle, making things worse,” reports Harry. “Somewhere deep inside me, I did trust that we would get through the mess and re-establish harmony if one of us could just get a grip. But I was afraid I wouldn’t make it through the day, feeling, as I did, that I was a miserable failure as parent and husband. Oddly enough, the thing that saved me was a task I’d been avoiding at work–editing a tedious technical textbook. I decided that I should be utterly grateful to have something concrete and impersonal to focus on. And, I did begin to feel better. At one point, I told my co-worker, ‘Thank God for this dreadfully written book!’ A small shift into appreciation and feeling useful gave me the clearer head and calmer heart I needed to go home and assist my wife and daughter.”
I alone am in charge of my feelings. They are not in charge of me. ___________ is not in charge of my feelings. Happiness is a decision I make moment by moment. I can stay present with myself no matter what I am feeling. I do not abandon myself. That my well-being is entirely my own creation and responsibility is very good news. I can always access appreciation.