If it was easy to choose how you feel, I assume you would always choose to feel good. Since you don’t always feel good, you are not easily able to choose how you feel. However you can begin a process to increase your ability to feel good more often.
I believe our feelings are guidance. Feelings give us feedback about how we are interpreting a particular situation.
Let’s say your daughter said she had a tough time growing up. If you feel hurt, you have interpreted your daughter’s words as a criticism of your parenting. The hurt feelings are feedback. They are telling you that you believe you were not a good parent.
You could discount this feedback and tell yourself you were a good parent but would you feel better? Probably not. The niggling feeling that you have done something wrong would still hang around.
There is another way.
You could examine the evidence and decide if you had done anything that negatively affected your daughter while she was growing up. This would involve asking her about it and undertaking some personal introspection.
If you had given her a tough time, you would come to terms with your behaviour, apologise, and let it go.
If you hadn’t, you would know she was talking about aspects of her childhood other than your parenting.
Either way you feel better.
Here is another example:
Let’s say your father says you are lazy after your poor exam results came in. So now you feel really angry.
Can you choose to feel differently?
You can, but not directly. Underneath the anger you feel hurt. To feel better, you need to take the next step of working out why you feel hurt.
You will discover that you feel inadequate. Either you worked on the subject but failed to fully understand it or you actually were lazy. Either way you feel like a failure.
In the first instance, your father is wrong about the laziness. Even so, you know you didn’t do enough to get the results you wanted. In the second instance, your father is correct.
Choosing to feel better here will take some determination. You will feel better if you accept his criticism and decide to do more next semester. Why not take your father’s comments a wake up call? As long as you follow through with your decision, you will only feel good about this “failure.”
All our negative feelings tell us something about ourselves. Even if the feeling is directed at someone else.
You can test this.
Think about someone or some situation that makes you feel angry. Sit down in a quiet place and ask yourself what it is that makes you feel threatened in some way. Anger is always about fear. If you are angry, you feel threatened. What are you afraid of when you experience this person or situation? You might want to check to see if it reminds you of any experiences in your early childhood, including your interactions with your parents and significant people and how you reacted to them.
Here is an example from my own life. For a time when I was younger, I noticed I felt uncomfortable whenever I saw anyone who was extremely obese. One day I explored my reaction. During my self-examination, my discomfort turned into anger. Then my anger turned into fear. Eventually I realised that I was afraid. I did not have a healthy relationship with food. Even though I tended to be skinny rather than fat, I greatly feared being obese. I confronted my fear by imagining being extremely obese. I felt all the emotions associated with such an experience including a great deal of sadness. Once these feelings were released, I had no further negative reaction towards obese people. In fact, I could only feel compassion for them.
Can we choose our emotions? The answer is not simple. While we can choose our emotions, it is not easy. We need to explore the reasons behind our emotional reactions. We need to confront our feelings of anger and hurt. Then we need to take action. By undertaking this challenge, we make ourselves stronger and more competent. We learn to be the people we really want to be. And then we feel really good!
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