Questioning My Feelings
A 21-year-old student is confused about his feelings. For the sake of clarity, I will comment on his email line by line, followed by general comments and suggestions.
“I used to be a really mean person, but as I’ve progressed through college, I’ve changed my view of the world dramatically.”
The way we treat others reveals how we feel about ourselves. When you were mean to others it was because you did not like yourself. Perhaps, as a child you were told that you were “no good.” There can be any number of reasons why you didn’t like yourself. But, for the moment, let’s forget about the past and think about the present. You are trying to improve yourself and have partially succeeded. That is admirable. Have you congratulated yourself? Have you celebrated your improvement? Don’t neglect yourself; be sure to celebrate your every success. The young of animals are nurtured by their parents, but soon after they are left to fend for themselves. They have to learn how to nurture themselves. We are no different, so don’t neglect this step.
“However, as nearly a year has passed since I began changing the way I think, I’ve found myself in extreme distress. I have the signs of severe stress and depression – loss of sexual desire and interest in everything, extreme memory problems, trouble concentrating, all of it. I’m not completely sure why this has been happening to me because my life situation has improved a lot.”
The symptoms you described do point to depression. However, not necessarily to severe or clinical depression. In the case of untreated clinical depression, you would most likely be unable to write to me. Also, you head wouldn’t be as clear as it is. For example, you write you are not sure why this is happening, yet in the next paragraph you insightfully describe possible causes…
“Part of me thinks it has to do with the constant worrying I go through. I’m very worried about whether I can trust myself and my feelings. For example, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to find funny anymore ─ I used to make fun of others and laugh when others suffered, but now I’m afraid to laugh at those kinds of jokes. I feel like it’s wrong to laugh at other people because it’s belittling who they are. There are certain things that are ok to laugh at, but most of the time I’m scared to make a joke because I don’t want people around me to take offense.
Also, I’ve listened to audio tapes by a psychiatrist who says we must evaluate our feelings rather than always follow them. He says that there is nothing wrong with me, and that any negative feeling I have is wrong? Well, this has really screwed me up because I don’t know what feelings to trust anymore. If I feel like I don’t like someone because they are being loud and irritating, am I wrong? Should I force myself to like it? What about the feeling I get when I think a certain type of music is bad, or when I don’t like the way my hair looks? Are these feelings wrong?”
Our feelings are extremely important. They are our gateway to the world. They are how we experience life. Not to feel is not to live. Because feelings are so important, you will be uncomfortable when you don’t know why you feel as you do or you don’t know what you should be feeling. The discomfort and confusion about your feelings lead to worry. And as time goes by, if the feelings remain unresolved, worry leads to frustration. Finally, frustration leads to depression. Since you made many points in the above paragraph, I will now break it down into smaller pieces and comment on each part separately.
“Part of me thinks it has to do with the constant worrying I go through.”
Worry or anxiety is a weaker form of fear. Fear is expecting something terrible will happen and the opposite of fear is expecting something wonderful will happen. Anxiety or worry is not an expectation, but a feeling that something bad MAY happen. The opposite of anxiety is the feeling or belief that something good may happen.
The cure for worry is quite simple. It’s just a matter of changing our focus from something bad that may happen to something good that may happen. If we think about terrible things that MAY happen, terrible things WILL happen; mainly, we’ll suffer from worry, anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and all forms of dis-ease (disease).
Let me ask you; is it possible that something wonderful may happen this month, this week, or even today? Of course it is! Start focusing on that! Once you realize how your life can change for the better, you will grow hopeful, enthusiastic, and positive. This shift in attitude opens the way for opportunities and positive action on your part.
“I’m very worried about whether I can trust myself and my feelings.”
Your feelings are like the gauges and dials in your automobile. Their purpose is to share information. For instance, good feelings are there to tell you that you are doing the right thing and to motivate you to do more of the same. However, bad feelings are there to tell you that you are doing something wrong and you need to make corrections. As long as you realize this you will understand that your feelings can be trusted. Let’s look at an example. You are feeling anxious, frustrated, and confused, so you wrote to me, hoping to receive some help. That’s a good thing. You used your bad feelings properly by heeding their call to search for ways to make positive changes. Carefully go through all of my comments. Perhaps you will find help. If not, you may need professional help. Trust your feelings. If your gut tells you that something you find here may work for you, by all means try it. But don’t just read about it; apply it if you can. On the other hand, if your gut tells you that you’d be better off with professional help, listen to it and get the help you need.
“For example, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to find funny anymore – I used to make fun of others and laugh when others suffered, but now I’m afraid to laugh at those kinds of jokes. I feel like it’s wrong to laugh at other people because it’s belittling who they are.”
Your own words reveal that you can trust your feelings, for they told you your behavior was wrong and you made changes. Congratulations!
“There are certain things that are ok to laugh at, but most of the time I’m scared to make a joke because I don’t want people around me to take offense.”
Of course, you shouldn’t offend others. But if you’re scared of telling jokes that may because the jokes are contrived and at the expense of others. The best jokes are those that bubble up naturally and are inoffensive. Begin by realizing that there is no requirement or law that states you must tell jokes. Just enjoy the company and conversation. When you learn how to relax without the need to perform, you will set free your natural sense of humor. Don’t try; just let it happen.
“Also, I’ve listened to audio tapes by a psychiatrist who says we must evaluate our feelings rather than always follow them. He says that there is nothing wrong with me, and that any negative feeling I have is wrong?”
Our feelings, including negative ones, can never be wrong. They’re there to guide us. The trouble occurs when we don’t stop to think about what our feelings are trying to tell us. If we’re not careful, we react automatically, thoughtlessly. Every negative emotion you experience is a signal. It is a red light. It is saying, “Stop and think before you act.”
“Well, this has really screwed me up because I don’t know what feelings to trust anymore. If I feel like I don’t like someone because they are being loud and irritating, am I wrong? Should I force myself to like it? What about the feeling I get when I think a certain type of music is bad, or when I don’t like the way my hair looks? Are these feelings wrong?”
When negative thoughts and feelings spontaneously arise, don’t ask yourself whether it is right or wrong. Rather, ask yourself whether it is HELPFUL or not. Burn this into your memory: people are the source of our power, success, and happiness. The more we get along with others, the better off we will be. If you CHOOSE to get upset by everyone who is “too noisy” (yes, it is a choice), it is NOT HELPFUL. All you will be doing is slamming shut the doors of opportunity. If you love yourself, you will want to give yourself the gifts of power, success, and happiness. You can easily do this by ACCEPTING OTHERS. What’s more, until you learn how to accept others, you will not accept yourself, and, therefore, you will condemn yourself to unhappiness and depression.
Don’t compare your feelings about your choices of music or style of clothes with your feelings toward people. Your choice of music, clothing, or drinks is subjective and perfectly acceptable. But the actions you take because of your feelings toward people will be HELPFUL or HARMFUL. If it’s up to me, I’ll pick the helpful way of looking at things and acting.
Do you dislike some people because they are too snobbish, argumentative, or lazy? Good! Your feeling of dislike is a very helpful signal. You see, whatever you dislike in others, is what you dislike in yourself. So, your feelings are telling you what areas you need to work on. I know, when you hear this for the first time, it is difficult to understand and believe. You are convinced that “they” are the ones with the problem. But that’s not the case; it’s you that needs the fixing, and your feelings are kindly informing you of that fact. Once you work on yourself, erasing childish demands that the world and the people in it behave as you want them to, you will discover a wonderful, exciting place. It is only after you open your heart and accept the world and life as they are that you will be able to experience their splendor.
Our reader continues with a few more questions.
“I’m worried about how far I’m supposed to take this. I feel like I’m constantly questioning whether something is ok or not. How do we draw the line between the person who talks loudly and irritates others and the person who hits somebody? Aren’t both people bothering someone else? How are we to say it’s ok for the first person to be loud and disruptive, but the second person can’t punch someone?”
Let’s begin by looking at your first sentence in the above paragraph. Notice the difference a small change can make. Here’s your sentence: “I’m WORRIED about how far I’m supposed to take this.” Here’s a better sentence: “I’m CURIOUS about how far I’m supposed to take this.” Can you see the differences? Can you also see you have a choice in how you express yourself? And can you see how your choice of words determines your feelings? The path of worry or anxiety is useless as it doesn’t get you anywhere (unless you are wise enough to listen to what your feelings are trying to tell you). The path of CURIOUSITY, however, leads to investigation, experimentation, and exploration. In a word, curiosity leads to a life of adventure. Don’t be a worrier; be an adventurer.
As far as the other questions go, hitting someone and “irritating” someone are entirely different. Hitting is an act of violence and is unacceptable. How would you like to be knocked around (perhaps you were as a child)? And “irritation” isn’t caused by another person, but is a choice you make. You made your own rule that if anyone speaks louder than you deem acceptable, you refuse to be happy; rather, you insist on being irritated. Who suffers because of your rule? It isn’t the person who is speaking “loudly.” No, it’s you. Since robbing yourself of your own success and happiness doesn’t make much sense, I suggest you give up that rule/habit. Start getting curious about how your life would change if you started to accept people as they are instead of demanding that they change to suit you.
Here are our reader’s final questions.
“I’ve felt like I was in love with girls before, but I was wrong. So, isn’t it possible that I am crazy to prefer a certain style of clothing, music, humor? If feelings can lie to us and cause us problems, how am I supposed to know what to do?”
You cannot compare romantic love with preferences in clothing, music, and humor. You are perfectly free to buy your own style of clothing, listen to your favorite music, and tell your own brand of humor (as long as it is not offensive).
Regarding love, of course you thought you were in love and then found you weren’t. That happens to everyone. That’s why we have words like “first love” and “infatuation. When you begin another relationship, how will you be able to tell whether it is love or infatuation? You won’t be able to in the early stages. So keep that in mind. That means, don’t rush into anything like an engagement or marriage. It’ll take at least a year to know that you are in love. And love is always accompanied by respect and admiration. Ideally, you will have dated several women before settling down with one. This is because love means “to hold in high regard,” and how can you hold someone in high regard unless you have a basis for comparison?
Okay, now you have had a chance to review my suggestions. You might have found one or two points that provide a glimmer of hope, but you would really like some heavy duty help, a powerful program you can follow that will allow you to transform your life. If that’s the way you feel, I recommend you consider The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, M.D., Dan S. Kennedy, and The Psyche-Cybernetics Foundation.
Some people learn better and faster with audio programs. If that describes you, you can order the
CD version here. True, the audio version is more expensive than the book (which is more comprehensive, but takes longer to absorb), but what better investment can you make than in your own life?
Now that I’ve answered your questions to the best of my ability, I’ll pass on some additional tips in the form of action steps you can take.
1. Embrace your emotions. They are your friends and your guides. Your emotions (feelings) are what lead you to take action. But do not automatically take thoughtless action. Stop! And Think! Then act. To learn more about what our feelings tell us, see my article, “Why We Engage in Self-Defeating Behavior.”
2. Ask yourself questions. Questions are more powerful than affirmations because they lead to solutions and positive action more quickly. Ask yourself questions like, “What are my feelings trying to tell me? How will my life change if I destroy my enemies by making them my friends? What would be different if I were to get along with everyone I meet? What new, exciting things can I learn in the New Psycho-Cybernetics program? If I am unhappy about my present situation, what do I plan to do to improve it? What new habits should I be developing?
3. Here is a helpful technique: Choose a convenient time as your “worry time.” For example, you may decide that you will set aside 3:00~3:30 pm as your worry time. That means, any other time you start to worry, you immediately stop, quickly write down your worry and add it to your “worry list.” Then tell yourself, “I’ll worry about that at 3 pm. Right now I’ll get back to work.” This technique will help you to quickly gain control over your worrying.
4. Busy your mind with constructive action. You cannot think of two things at the same time. So, whenever you are immersed in an interesting activity, you will not be worrying. Can you see how studying and applying the New Psycho-Cybernetics course can help? It can turn out to be fascinating and exciting, which is a cure to depression, boredom, and apathy. Your life is what you make it. Make it exciting!
Summing up, how you feel depends on how you interpret what happens to you and what you do about it. Be your own best friend by interpreting events in a way that helps you. Also, consider these words of Kahlil Gibran, “Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.” The new Psycho-Cybernetics will help you feel all you are beyond that pain. Allow it to introduce you to your own magnificent self. But it will work only if you do. Are you willing to do so? You deserve it. Go for it!
- Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do by Sarah Knight
- You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life By Jen Sincero
- Unfu*k Yourself: Get out of your head and into your life by Gary John Bishop
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life By Mark Manson
- Enough! ─ How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed, Stop Worrying, Get Rid of Unwanted Anxiety, End Negative Thinking by Brian Nox
- Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior By Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg