If there’s one thing I want you to take from this blog post, it’s this: You can rationalize and bullshit yourself all day long, but your emotions will always tell you the truth.
Some of you already know this about me, but others can deduce as much from the title of the website that I’ve had a long journey recovering from PTSD. In order to heal I had to get real about what my emotions were trying to tell me, rather than just dismiss them as being irrational or trying to ignore them. Lying to myself and suppressing my feelings just kept me in an unhealed state for a very long time. I had to face facts that I was feeling what I was feeling for a reason, and that if I listened to those feelings and accepted them as valid, that they were actually showing me the path forward to recovery.
If you are on a similar path, I recommend discussing the content of this blog post with your therapist. If you’re new to this type of inner-work, you’ve probably spent so many years trying to ignore your feelings that it can be difficult to then try to attune to them and get an accurate message. It can help to have a trained third-party person there to act as a sounding board. I certainly couldn’t have done it without my own therapist.
We think of our emotions as being an “inner experience” but they are actually very social messengers. People can tell how you feel just by looking at you, even when you are actively trying to hide it, and our emotions are designed to be that way. Emotions are triggered by our interactions with other people, and help to regulate their behavior towards us. They can communicate “I’m friendly, let’s play!” or “You’re making me sad, leave me alone”. If you’ve ever felt a natural instinct to avoid someone even though there was no logical reason why, listen to that feeling. Tuning in to feelings and learning how to decode them is the first step in developing intuition.
This is a basic codex I’ve developed based on my own life experience:
Happiness: A need that hasn’t been being met is now being met. Because the balance of met versus unmet needs is always changing, happiness is thus a moving target. If you haven’t felt happy in a long time, it’s time to try new things.
Anxiety: You need to take action. Life has taught me that the more chronic the anxiety, the “bigger” the action that is needed from me. So, in my case that could mean ending a relationship, changing a job, etc. This is a feeling that says “You need to do something”.
Anger: You need to stand up for yourself. Anger tends to come from a place of feeling like you’re being cheated or you’re being denied something you’re entitled to. What exactly one is entitled to is up for debate and can change with cultural norms, but I think either way it can signal that a discussion is needed between you and whoever that individual is who is making you feel angry. When I was having work done to my house I had to stand up for myself several times to the contractor we hired. Having a calm controlled conversation like grown-ups is the solution to anger. If you find yourself “losing it”, that’s probably a sign that you should have spoke up a lot sooner. It’s important to take responsibility for your failure of not having spoken-up sooner and use that as a reminder to speak-up even when you’re only feeling a little annoyed. If you’re dealing with people that chronically walk-over your boundaries, at some point you need to decide to distance yourself from those people. For instance, I’ve decided to never hire that same contractor again.
Sadness: Your needs are not being met. Everyone has a basic need to belong and feel accepted, and that’s usually the need that’s not being met in this case.
Frustration: You need help and you’re not getting it. Ask for help. Be more open with your communication.
Nervous: You’re under-prepared or you’re interacting with an adversarial person. Pay attention to people who make you feel nervous. I find it’s often a person who likes to have a power differential between you and them, and it’s unlikely there’s anything you can do to change that dynamic other than avoid that person.
Sometimes the real origin of a feeling is so hard to face that it can be displaced onto a “safe” object or person that’s not really causing the feeling per se. This was the case with me when I was recovering from my PTSD. Once I started to allow myself to feel all these repressed feelings, I’ll admit that I had a bit of a hair-trigger for a while there. There was a lot of crying and a lot of anxiety. But having gotten all of those feelings out, I’m a lot “tougher” now and people will often comment on how well I handle things. Before this used to be an act, but now it’s natural. I didn’t have to train myself to be this way, it was just a natural consequence of listening to my feelings and taking the action they were directing me to take.