Feeling the feeling all the way through

We’re talking about self-control in our classes this month, and we really try to emphasize that self-control isn’t about achieving perfect control of anything. Rather, self-control is the work that you do, physically, emotionally, and mentally, in your daily effort to improve.

Today I talked about emotional self-control, and I’m really emphasizing the work we all need to do at identifying our feelings and feeling our feelings all the way through.

Identifying feelings. Honestly, I can’t think of any skill I would emphasize more than this when I think about life-long emotional health. Know what you’re feeling. Be able to identify it by name. Not what you think you should be feeling or what someone else wants you to be feeling — know what you’re feeling, right now, in all its sometimes-twisted truth.

And then, feel it. All the way through. We don’t stop feeling scared just because there’s “nothing to be scared of.” We don’t stop feeling angry just because it’s a rotten time to be angry. Feelings last as long as they last, and I’d rather our students accept how they’re feeling and let that feeling last as it needs to, than to either claim to be feeling something they don’t or to try to squash a feeling they think has lasted “long enough.”

I had a great chance to see this in action with my own daughter recently. She lost her wallet, which meant she lost her state ID, her college ID, her debit card, her bus pass, and some cash. She was understandably upset once we realized and confirmed that her wallet was gone. She continued to be upset as we made the call to cancel and replace her debit card and bus pass, and make appointments to replace her IDs. Once we had done everything that needed doing (or had a specific plan in place for next steps), the event was, for all intents and purposes, over. We had fixed everything that could be fixed, and there were no long-term ill effects from the incident.

And she couldn’t stop crying. She got angry with herself because she couldn’t stop crying.

The catalyst was gone, the event was over, the problems were all solved. But she still had to feel those feelings — fear, frustration, anger, worry, self-recrimination, guilt, whatever — all the way through. It was a good opportunity to get to say it out loud with her:  you can’t stop feeling what you’re feeling on your schedule. Sometimes you have to let those feelings live their natural lifespan. They’ll go away or change or resolve or whatever eventually, but you still have to feel them all the way through.

Consider grief. We don’t get to stop feeling grief because it’s been long enough. It is not self-control to be able to stop grieving at a particular point and time. Most of us know the recognizable stages of grief, but we don’t always like to take the time that one or more of those stages takes us. We don’t like the fact that just because we’ve “moved on” to the next stage of grief we might STILL keep feeling an “earlier” stage. Grief catches us off guard when we are uncomfortable with feeling our feelings all the way through.

Know what you’re feeling, and give yourself the gift of time to feel it. All the way through.

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