Ever seen a toddler smack another because they were upset? Or snatch a toy because they also wanted it? How did the adults around them respond? We would explain that the behaviour was wrong and teach them not to take action simply based on their feeling a certain way.
As you enter your teen years, you too may find yourself experiencing strong emotions. These may sometimes include unfamiliar emotions like romantic crushes.
Following these feelings may be like behaving like a toddler who lashes out on impulse.
Maturity then comes when you learn how not to be controlled by your feelings. Think of it as inserting a pause between how you feel and how you act.
Our feelings are often indicators of something deeper going on inside. The child who snatched the toy could have been experiencing jealousy and envy. But at that age, children may not understand such complex emotions.
Some useful questions to ask yourself when you experience strong emotions include: Why do I feel this way? What am I upset about?
The pause you insert between your feelings and your actions can protect you from being swept away by emotions and acting in ways you may regret after.
Feelings are like signposts of our inner well-being. They help tell you if you are doing well or not quite. When you are not doing well inside, It’s unlikely you will experience positive emotions. So if we follow our feelings blindly, we may end up hurting ourselves or the people around us.
Developing self-awareness is about learning to recognise why you feel the way you do, and acting on the cause, not just the feeling itself.
It’s like a spider and its webs. If one day, you find your room full of cobwebs, you will clean the cobwebs but if you don’t find the spider, the cobwebs will be back.
Acting on your feelings without first understanding the cause is like dealing with the cobwebs and not the spider.
The cobwebs are the feelings. The spider is the actual problem or reason behind those feelings.
Our feelings can point us to the problem and move us to seek help. But being able to identify the root causes and needs behind those feelings is a crucial step towards getting out of a rut.
What you feel may be real, but is it true?
For example, in the heat of jealousy, that toddler may have felt that the other child is preferred because he has the toy. Or the toddler may have felt unloved because he wanted the toy but didn’t have it.
The feelings are real. But they may not be based on truth.
So even though we value our emotions for acting as signposts to our inner world, we do have to acknowledge that feelings are poor leaders. We have to learn to lead our feelings.
Self-regulation is a great way to do this.
When experiencing strong emotions, practise taking a pause before you respond. A common trick many people use is to count to a certain number. This shifts your attention away from the difficult emotion, and provides a space to calm down to focus on the facts instead.
You can also remind yourself of simple truths to “ground” you. Depending on the scenario, these could be:
- “I am in control.”
- “I am valued.”
- “I don’t need to mirror their response.”
- “I won’t take this personally.”
If you are experiencing conflict or feeling emotionally attacked, you can imagine a shield around you or the person’s words falling to the ground before it touches you.
These reminders can be powerful anchors in times of distress.
Managing strong feelings can be hard. If you are experiencing consistent, difficult feelings about a person or a recurring situation, do speak to a trusted friend or family member. This person should be able to add perspective and lend strength to you.
© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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