This post is Part 4 in a 4-part blog series on changing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. (If you missed the previous posts, you can find Part 1 here.)
Changing Your Feelings Can Feel Impossible
Trying to change your feelings can seem impossible. Have you ever been feeling down or depressed, and someone said, “Oh, just cheer up!” You probably wanted to punch them in the face.
I actually don’t think it works very well to “will yourself” to change your emotions. I usually find it easier to change my thoughts or behaviors, and then the feelings usually follow. However, there are some things you can try to do to explore and work with your feelings. Sometimes people find that when they explore their feelings in a deeper way, the feelings end up shifting.
3 Ways to Work with Feelings
- Express your feelings. We work pretty hard to contain our feelings. Maybe you were taught growing up that it wasn’t okay to feel sadness or anger, so you expend a lot of effort to hide those emotions. This can be exhausting. Also, sometimes by suppressing our emotions, they actually end up having more power over us, or they come out sideways. The key here is to find a way to express your feelings. Maybe you like to write, and could journal about your feelings. Perhaps you like to paint, and could express your feelings through art. Maybe you could express your feelings through a different art form, such as dance or music. Perhaps you could do something physical with your body, like punching a pillow or chopping wood. Find something that works for you to let your feelings out.
- Assume the posture of your feelings. We often carry our feelings in our bodies. For example, if you are angry, your jaw might be tight, or you might clench your fists. If you are sad, you might hang your head or feel heaviness in your chest. In this exercise, the goal is to experience our feelings in our bodies, but then exaggerate it. For example, perhaps you are feeling sad. Where do you feel that in your body? Maybe you slump over and hang your head. Maybe you start to tear up. Could you exaggerate the posture of sadness? Maybe this leads you to really slump over, or even lie down on the ground. Maybe you start crying harder. Do the best you can to exaggerate the posture of your feeling.
- Accept your feelings. There is a quote I love by Katherine Mansfield that says, “Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change.” There is something about accepting our feelings that changes our relationship to them. For the time being, could you simply accept what you are feeling, whatever it is? Even if the feeling is painful, could you accept that it reflects where you are right now, and that’s okay? Could you let go of trying to change it, just for now? You might find that once you accept your feelings, they lose their power over you.
Discussion: What have you found to be the most effective strategy for working with your feelings?