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You Are Not Your Feelings

You Are Not Your Feelings

Last Updated on March 22, 2022 by admin

It is not easy to define feelings. They are ever changing and we feel so many of them! Despite these qualities, one of best descriptions I’ve heard is that feeling are like waves. They come in strong, peak, and fade. You can’t control when they’ll come and how they’ll come. But one thing that’s pretty consistent is that they come and they pass. 

Comparing our feelings to waves is helpful because it speaks to their fleeting nature. The fact that you feel many different emotions, moment to moment, means your feelings are not who you are. Feelings are not the same as character traits. That is, feelings come and go depending on the situation while character traits are inherent values that make you who you are. For example, after learning that you didn’t get that job you interviewed for last week, you might feel miserable in that moment, but still be a brave person. The English language is partly to blame. We often say, “I’m _________ (e.g., angry)” implying that we are that which we feel. Instead, when somebody makes us angry, it can be helpful to remind ourselves to distance by saying, “I’m feeling angry”. 

The realization that we are separate from who we are is important because it highlights that ultimately you have the power to manage your emotions. When you notice, say, loneliness creep in, you can tell your lonely feelings that there are people around you who care deeply for you. When you feel furious, you can tell “fury” that it will not control you and then wait for the peak to pass. 

Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy, captured this notion of choice brilliantly in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” (1946) which he wrote while living in a concentration camp during the WWII. He said, “between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. Frankl believed that everything could be taken from a person, except for one thing: one’s choice to how they will respond to a situation or a set of circumstances. 

So next time you feel a surge of strong negative emotion(s), take a moment to notice what’s happening to you. If you have a recurrent emotion, for example, anxiety, consider giving it a name. You could call it “the monster” or whatever you think is appropriate and relevant. The point is to separate who you are with that emotion, and by doing that, not let the emotion control you. You might even consider giving it a ridiculous name like “Ogre” to emphasize that the emotion is not something to be afraid of. You don’t have to do what anxiety tells you to do–miss out on things you love or do things you didn’t want to do. Because at the end of the day, you are not your feelings and feelings do come and go.