Do we choose our feelings or do they choose us?
I have been having an interesting conversation regarding feelings. I believe that feelings are innate and instinctive and not chosen, while others believe that we choose what we feel.
We can certainly create an environment where we are likely to feel a certain way but that is different to a reaction to a given situation where, for instance, we feel hurt.
I believe that feelings just are, and require only to be felt, or honoured. We can then, if we are self-aware, choose what we do with those feelings and how we respond to the situation or the person who has triggered those feelings of hurt. We do not choose how we feel about what happens in the moment, but we do choose, or we can choose, where it takes us.
Human beings are hardwired to connect and connection is really just the technical term for love in its various forms. Research shows that the more connected we feel the more optimal is our immune function and health, so, that feeling connected, or feeling loved is an innate part of the human condition.
It is natural that in situations which indicate a 'disconnect' or 'lack of love' that we would have an instinctive and natural response as part of our 'warning system.' It is also natural that in such situations we should experience feelings which make us aware because that is part of our evolutionary survival 'kit.'
Feeling 'hurt' is a message which we need to hear for a variety of reasons, otherwise we would not experience such feelings. As an organism our body knows that 'disconnection' is 'dangerous' and never more so than when the 'disconnection' is with someone we love, i.e. with whom we have an important, supportive, loving and connected relationship.
Human beings have been created to feel and if it required thought to feel then babies and small children, before the age of true 'consciousness' would just not feel and we know that is not the case. They feel and they feel deeply. In fact, up until about seven, children are all feelings and little thought - well, little focussed thought.
So, if babies and children feel without the capacity to 'think' a feeling into existence, that says feelings are innate and instinctive, and I relate that to our hard-wired need for connection. Studies of babies and children in orphanages with poor care, has shown that those who are not touched or 'connected' with carers, have poor health and often die. We cannot survive without physical, emotional and psychological connection with others and so it is logical that the 'loss' of such connections, or the threat of loss, would trigger feelings which both warn and allow process.
Feeling hurt, if we study it closely, involves all sorts of emotions - fear, grief, sadness, anger - sourced in a sense of 'loss' or disconnection. Some people are so easily hurt that the actions of a stranger can cause them pain, but, most of us are only hurt by the actions of those we love, and I would add, trust.
There is a sliding scale of relationship based on knowledge, history, commitment and emotional connection where the same actions by a stranger in a queue would not have the equal impact on you, as those actions would from someone with whom you have a strong, committed and loving relationship.
And that is because there is no real connection with the stranger and so, any cruelty, rejection or unkindness does not create a sense of 'loss' or betrayal and so there is no capacity, in a healthy psyche, to feel 'hurt.'
I know it is a common approach in psychology to take a behavioural approach and to believe that we choose what we feel in any situation but human beings are far too complex to be reduced to mechanics and behaviour and there is not anyway, 'one size which fits all.'
Just as we do not choose to laugh or cry, but we can stop ourselves from laughing or crying, so too we do not choose to feel, although we can 'stop' ourselves from feeling. Although in truth, we do not stop the tears, laughter or feelings but merely suppress them where they will express themselves in some other way because, particularly with feelings, the physical experience must and will, be somehow felt. I am sure dreams play a part in releasing, expressing, honouring, feelings which are not allowed to be known consciously.
Quite some years ago when I saw a therapist for a short time she asked me: What comes first, the thought or the feeling?
I was not sure. I think I said 'thought' because I am more in touch with thoughts than feelings, or, I was then, but I continued to reflect on many occasions in the years that followed, as to her question.
The question raised my sense of self-awareness and I came to see that for me anyway, what came first was the feeling. Then I would apply thoughts to rationalise the feeling. It may well be different for others.
And while there is no doubt that what we 'think' can encourage, maintain and influence how we feel, the reality is that our responses to certain situations are feelings first, which come of their own accord and which are not chosen, and then we rummage through, unconsciously and consciously, the 'chest' of thoughts which might explain the feelings.
At least that is how it is for me. Others no doubt are different. Having said that, this is how I see it:
1. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is not about allocation of blame. It is purely a reaction to a situation.
2. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is a reaction in the moment and while grieving may take some time, the feelings of hurt should be short-lived and when processed in a healthy way, enable insight and assist grieving.
3. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others will last longer for some than others, and will depend on circumstances, but such feelings should not be enduring.
4. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is something for personal processing and while, if any apologies are forthcoming, and are to be welcomed, is not something which requires the involvement of the person responsible for the actions.
5. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is a reaction over which we have no control - they are just feelings. But, any responses we might make due to feelings of hurt, are within our control and are our responsibility and are not the responsibility of the person whose actions triggered the original hurt.
And I feel and think this is also good advice:
We can’t choose how we feel, but we can choose how we act in response to our feelings.
We can choose to sit with discomfort.
To feel our feelings.
To feel the loneliness and anger, the sadness and disappointment.
Unpleasant feelings don’t last forever.
They’re like waves.
The come in strong, until they peak and then ripple away.
Choose to ride the wave.
This too will pass.
Instead of disregarding the feeling or numbing out, develop an awareness.
There is always a reason behind our feelings.
Feelings are not the enemy.
They are messengers.