Like most of you, I’ve rarely questioned where my feelings come from. Does it really matter? They are there. That is undeniable and unavoidable.
People talk so much about “controlling” emotions or even “managing” our feelings. There are some things we can do to lessen the blow and minimize the damage, but I am starting to explore the idea that where our feelings come from are actually a vital part of the process.
If we can figure out the source of our feelings, we can use them more effectively.
Doesn’t it seem like our emotions are a result of external stimuli? That they begin with some event or circumstance, some comment or action that originates outside of ourselves?
It is clear this is the prevailing wisdom. I know it is clear because of the language we use. My wife did something that made me angry. Something that happens on the news makes me sad. I won the lottery and it led to my happiness. Geesh, even our counselors ask, “how does that make you feel?”
We have internalized a narrative in which the external circumstances we encounter are responsible for our actions.
What if this isn’t the case? What if our emotions come from some place more personal? What if we own, and even – to a degree – decide on our emotions?
The true source of our feelings is from the inside. My feelings belong to me. I am responsible for them.
My emotions are tied to my values. That is the true source of my emotion. The process of feeling begins with the question: what really matters to me? If the affirmation of others matters to me, I will have an emotional response when I think it is not happening. If money matters to me, I will feel certain ways when I gain or lose it. If those things don’t matter to me, I won’t feel anything.
Our values are personal. They are ours. Sure they are influenced by the people and experiences we encounter. But in the end, values are the core of who we are and at some point along the way, we have taken ownership of what we value.
Those external circumstances are triggers. They ignite an awareness that values are being pressed. They point to our emotions; they don’t cause them – at least not in the traditional sense. The circumstance is not to blame. It is just the catalyst.
The complication comes when trying to make sense of what we really value and what our emotion is saying about it. If I value honesty and someone tells me something I don’t think is true, my emotions might ignite in a variety of ways. Will my emotion be negative because I disagree or positive because (although I disagree) a friend has told me their honest assessment? Or, will my emotion be negative because of something I realize I need to change within myself but don’t want to? Will my emotion be positive because it is reinforcing a superficial manifestation of my value?
It is all very complicated. The trick is to treat our emotions in proper context. It is telling you a value is being pressed. It is telling you something that matters within you needs to be noticed. What to think about your value and what to do in response are separate issues. Your emotion can’t really help with that. It just gets in the way at that point.
Accepting, and owning, that our emotion belongs to us is the first step toward making better choices. When we realize our value system is the source of our emotions, it changes how we interact with our thoughts, feelings, and actions, as well as how we interact with our fellow man.