I feel that it is my responsibility to learn to act rationally in spite of how I feel in any given situation. Feelings can be destructive if allowed free reign, yet feelings are the very essence of life. Feelings are a way of communicating what we feel is right or wrong in the world around us, they give us insight, and can be a way to communicate with the Lord.
I am working with my children and myself through a time of great change. We are moving from one city to another in South Africa (Durban to Cape Town 1600kms apart). We are leaving the home, friends and family, church community, and school we have known for the past 9 years. For me, it is another move, not as great as the last one from the UK to South Africa, but significant enough to unsettle us all.
My greatest challenge has been to ‘control’ how I feel about it in order to better support our children. First was denial (I didn’t want to go), then acknowledgement (this is going to happen no matter what), to acceptance (I’m okay with this let’s see where it goes), finally to trust. Trusting that it was okay to feel the way I did. They were healthy feelings and healthy for my children to see that I also felt uncertain at times. As long as I didn’t take out those emotions on other people, which happened in times of stress, that was not okay. Ultimately, I needed to trust my feelings and trust in the Lord to support us during this time of change.
However, I was taught as I grew up to distrust feelings. Feelings got you into trouble. Being angry was ‘bad’. However, it is often true that we confuse ‘Feelings’ and ‘Emotions’. I know that I did, so I have been doing some research.
Emotions are lower level responses which originally helped human beings to survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward and everything in between in our environments. Emotions proceed feelings, are physical and instinctual.
Feelings are mental associations and reactions to emotions. They are subjective and are influenced by personal experience, beliefs and memories. A feeling is a mental picture of what is going on in your body when you have an emotion regarding a given situation.
Antonio D’Amasio, professor of Neuroscience at the University of California explains it as follows:
“Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)
Feelings are neither good nor bad. They are messengers. We can trust that our feelings will be reliable sources of information that tell us what is going on inside ourselves. By understanding the difference between and becoming aware and trusting in your emotions and feelings, we can choose how we experience the world: the difference between responding and reacting, which can make the difference in a calm or chaotic life.
However, simply learning to respond rather than react does not make a life of rainbows and butterflies. By learning the difference and changing our thinking and behaviour in any given situation, we can maintain balance, a sense of peace, and move forward to a more meaningful dialogue or goal.
When I was growing up, my father held all the power and control, was emotionally cruel, and at times uncaring. I learned to fear him and his actions. I learned that showing any kind of emotion was bad. I would dread the moment he would return home from work, hoping that he would not find anything wrong or bad in what I had done that day. My heart would start pounding, I would feel anxious and worried.
For many years after I left home to go to university, and even now, I react from this fearful place as the overly emotional victim who fought back. It has taken years for me not to knee jerk react to some behaviour in my husband or others that remind me of my dad. I now deliberately and consciously choose my feelings and behaviours according to how I want to be and how I want to live my life.
So I found that the key for me and my children today was to find a way to let out the confusing, strong feelings that well up in so many situations throughout the day. Then we can let go of those emotions that are harmful to ourselves and others we love (by expressing the emotion), giving us a clearer pathway to receive guidance from the Lord. Feelings that are nurturing, useful, inspiring, positive, and liberating. He is there for us every minute, waiting to fill us with insight and love, if only we can put aside the negative feelings that block that pathway.
We sought help from a friend, who is also a psychologist, working in the realm of ‘emotional adventuring’. She has created her own set of ‘Feeling Cards’ with different versions for different ages. Each has a drawing of a person with that feeling. For example; sad, happy, brave, loved, loving, frustrated, angry etc. She has worked with me and the children regarding our upcoming change and we are learning to look inside to how we feel at different points in the day. Acknowledging the feeling, learning to respond, not knee jerk react to something, helps them to let go of the feeling and trust in ourselves and the Lord’s love to guide them.
We are moving through this change together. We listen to each other without judging, and with encouragement and support. There is a vast difference between this way of expressing emotions and feelings, and the dumping of feelings of anger or annoyance or confusion or uncertainty on the person we feel it towards. Clearing away the negative aspects of how we feel – that dumping – means we are free to trust that our feelings are okay, and that we can open ourselves to receive the Lord’s love again.
“Come to me, all who labour and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30