The feels are just too strong. As a highly sensitive and emotional person, I often find myself struggling with the issue of being rational. Since you’ve clicked on this article, there’s a high probability that you know what I’m talking about.
When you type “rational” into an online dictionary, here is what comes up: “Thinking process that employs logical, objective, and systematic methods in reaching a conclusion or solving a problem.”
However, that’s not how most highly sensitive and emotional people deal with problems. Should there be one, we spend a considerable amount of time sinking in the feels the problem evokes. When the feels are around for longer, we are able to start finding solutions — although we are still inclined to embrace our emotions in the final result.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. The danger, however, occurs when we lose ourselves in the process of getting familiar with our inner state and therefore don’t actually solve the problem. I think we’ve all been there. Blinded with emotions, stuck somewhere without an escape.
Very often, this leads to a downward spiral of negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression. In such cases, the most important thing to do is to recognize the feelings and the reason they are there.
As Dr. Amelia Aldao, psychology professor at Ohio State University, explains in a Psychology Today blog post, “the less aware we are of our emotions, the less likely we are to figure out how to best regulate them.”
‘How Do I Feel Right Now?’
You may now ask: “How can I not be aware of my feelings? I should be the one who feels everything deeply, after all.” Yes, that’s true, but just because a person feels something deeply doesn’t mean they are aware of the fact that they are feeling something. And, they may get confused by the complexity of it all.
On the contrary, that’s usually just the case. Your emotions may drive you into doing something you didn‘t actually want to do, and afterwards, you feel shame and guilt. Your confusion may become so strong that it becomes the problem itself.
And that’s when rationality must step in.
When I find myself struggling with negative thoughts, I do my best to take a step back. I ask myself some simple, yet very important questions:
- What is really happening?
- How do I feel right now?
- Is it fear?
- Is it anger?
- If not, what is it?
Once I seek out the worm that’s hiding within me — bothering my mind — I become aware of its presence. Once I become aware of its presence, I have two options.
- I can let it be, or,
- I can do something to take control.
Naming Your Feelings Helps Manage Them
Next, you need be honest with yourself. I know it sounds like a cliché phrase, but it’s an invaluable step. After becoming familiar with the feeling hiding behind your actions, it’s important to analyze it, even though one might say it’s impossible to fully analyze a feeling.
What you can do, however, is ask yourself some other questions. The purpose of this is to find the root of what you are feeling. Ask yourself:
- Why do I feel this way?
- What evoked the feeling within me?
- Has this feeling bothered me in the past?
- Do I have to feel this way? Do I want to?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you formulate the questions. The most important thing is to be absolutely honest with yourself while doing so. It may take some time to learn how to be honest with yourself and others, but it’s not impossible. It’s just hard work.
Going back to the question of whether to let it go — to not deal with the feeling inside us — or to take control, these questions will be helpful. If we find out that what we feel isn’t anything serious — for example, maybe we’re just tired from a lack of sleep, which can magnify negative emotions — we can decide to let it go. Sure, it’s always good to know what’s happening inside us, but in this case, it’s not necessary to analyze our emotions to a deeper level. On the other hand, if the emotion points to something more serious (for example, feeling undervalued at work or suspecting that your partner is cheating), then it’s time to take control. Ask yourself what little step you can take to start solving the underlying problem that is causing your negative emotion.
The reason I stress honesty so much is that every feeling is a reflection, a response. A reflection of our innermost (sometimes subconscious) thoughts and beliefs. When they meet the outer world, either in a positive or negative way, they create a certain feeling.
Let me give you a simple example. Imagine a situation in which you become annoyed by a cashier’s behavior at a supermarket. He didn’t do anything wrong, but you leave the supermarket with a strange, unpleasant feeling. Why? Because, simply, the cashier might have been a bit cold, not behaving in a way you think cashiers should behave. Deep inside, you hold a belief that cashiers should be kind to their customers. Instead of sinking into the feeling — and letting it ruin your good mood — simply let it go. It’s one of those feelings that doesn’t point to a serious problem.
Therefore, in order to really find the root of your feelings, honesty is the base. You identify a feeling, then you identify what’s causing it. Once you’ve done that, it can no longer manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do.
Research confirms the value of identifying our feelings. In a study involving participants who had a spider phobia, investigators found that the people who named their feelings (“scared,” “anxious,” etc.) had lower physiological reactivity to the spiders. As Aldao points out, these findings suggest that having greater emotional clarity can help reduce the physiological manifestation of an emotion.
As a highly sensitive person, you are full of ideals. You are kind, empathetic, and intuitive. I find these characteristics daily, over and over, in me and in many other people, but they are often hidden. Hidden behind, let’s say, fear — the greatest enemy. Fear of being judged, of the unknown, fear of rejection, and the fear of “what will others think of me.” Fear. Just another feeling, although usually the most powerful one.
But let me tell you something. The fear is not you. It’s just you being afraid.
In every situation, it’s just you feeling a certain way. But you can’t let the feeling take over you, because that’s when the confusion starts. No, you start taking steps. To know yourself a little more, to take control over your actions, and, most important, to express your true, honest self.
To be rational with our feels is key to our self-development.
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