One of the most helpful classes I took in undergrad was one that I never expected to hit me. It was simply called Motivation. I don’t remember all the ins and outs of what I learned, but some things really stood out to me. The biggest take away was that the reason emotions are so important to pay attention to and understand is because they are one of our biggest motivators!
The craziest thing about that is that no one ever really teaches us about emotions and how to pay attention to them. Some people naturally have good insight and do well figuring themselves out, but I would say a good portion of the population is not so in tune and does not know the root of their own behavior.
One of my primary jobs as a therapist is to help people SLOW DOWN and pay attention to their emotions. Why must we slow down? Good question. Because paying attention to our emotions requires us to sort through our immediate impression of what we think is going on and get into the layers of what’s underneath it all.
If you are one of the luckies that has insight and has a pretty realistic idea of why you do what you do, the next step in therapy tends to be trying to be nonjudgmental of whatever we discover about ourselves. For some reason many of us humans seem to think that there are right and wrong feelings, or shameful feelings, or embarrassing feelings, etc. The truth is, a feeling is JUST a FEELING. It’s there for a reason, but a lot of those reasons are beyond our control. For example, research shows that 40% of optimism/pessimism is genetic, so that’s going to play a big role in why we think the way we do automatically. As we know, our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are very closely related, intermingling and influencing one another. So then let’s add in life experiences. Did you have control over what was happening in your life from birth to 16? Not much! So if we had some bad experiences that have tainted our ways of seeing the world, is that something we should be judging ourselves for? Okay, okay, so let’s talk about adult experiences. We have much more control as adults, but at this point, a lot of our automatic responses to things are already in place. At this point it’s actually incredibly difficult to fight whatever our automatic responses to things are…is that something we can judge ourselves for? Well many find a way. One of the most interesting things about this is that if I were to tell you a story of someone similar to yourself, it’s unlikely you’d be so judgmental towards that person, especially regarding their FEELINGS. We are our own worst critic at times, and when it comes to feelings, our judgments are…well, nonsense!
The point is that being judgmental of ourselves does not help anything. We do best when we accept whatever we feel and try to understand it. A lot of growth comes from simply understanding ourselves better. That awareness helps shift our perspective and help us cope. As I say in one of my other blogs, practices such as yoga and meditation really help with this whole process, and it sounds hippie and hokey, but the goal really is to just let our feelings be. That’s how healing begins.