The link between feelings, thoughts and the lives we act out
We live in the life we are currently in; the relationships, the work, our health and then, importantly, ourselves. As you read this and think about this, it may sound like such an obvious statement. However, as this is considered more deeply, something interesting may appear to unfold.
What is behind our feelings?
Take this following situation. There is a a slightly older man and a younger woman standing at the bus stop. You can’t help accidentally hearing and observing these two people talking. One of them, the woman, looks at the man with tears in his eyes and she says in a clear voice, ‘goodbye’. She walks away after giving him a hug. The man hugs her back and then sits on the seat next to you, for a few minutes, looking down at his phone; he is very still and serious. Suddenly his mobile phone rings. He answers the call and starts chatting; his mood is now different, more perky. Within a few seconds he is laughing with the person on the phone and you can’t help hearing him say ‘yeah she has gone at last, thank god it’s all over. It was not that hard and I am ready to meet you’.
When I first heard this story it raised some feelings in me. Likewise, on hearing the above scenario, it might bring some feelings for others too, but what happens next with those feelings, what happens with you as you hear this story? Obviously this is a fictitious scenario, but there are real situations where we instantly perceive something and have quite strong feelings around it. Often we may not get a chance to clarify these situations. It could be that there is not the time or we are not in the right place to be able to comfortably ask. It could be that we feel too confused by our feelings to be able to call upon the tools or skills to be able to clarify the situation we have observed.
Feelings turning to thoughts
It's very interesting and may be helpful to observe that there is an important relationship between our feelings and thoughts, and vice versa. So what happens next, particularly if we do not stop to reflect on the relationship between our feelings and our thoughts? In the above situation, many different conclusions could be made. Was this a relationship breakup between a man and a woman? Where the man had possibly cheated on the woman? Or was it a father, who had anticipated a challenging farewell, talking to his wife afterwards, about seeing his daughter off to a difficult but important new chapter in her life? These, I am sure many will agree, are two very different scenarios.
An interesting point here is that if you then met that man again for the first time, shortly after, on a personal level, it might raise some challenging reactions that you would have to deal with in order to, in any way, feel comfortable with the man. So an important point here is that it’s often our initial feelings that greatly contribute to our immediate thoughts and then, as a result of these thoughts, we consequently find ourselves responding accordingly. Was this man acting in a way we felt we could trust, or was he doing the dirty on someone? How then might we respond to him, and he then respond to us? It goes on and on. Even more fascinating is that we might not have to bump into this man again for those confusing feelings and thoughts to be triggered. We might just bump into a man that seems very similar to this man. Often very unconsciously, particularly if we have had strong feelings associated with what we have seen in the past, the relationship between our feelings and thoughts can be so driving and instantaneous. Very often this happens without a second thought.
The importance of feelings
An important thing to remember here is that our feelings are probably one of the most important experiences in our lives; it’s not helpful to dismiss them or discount them. Feelings are about us, our very personal experiences of life. Without them we would be robots. Often our gut feeling, our intuition, is telling us something very real or important; maybe it’s true or maybe it’s bringing up something that is personal for us, from the past, that we could do with looking at. However, from looking at this above scenario, of the man and woman, it’s possible to see how our past feelings, related to what we have observed, can greatly influence our current feelings, thoughts and actions now and in the future. From our actions, our very real experiences play out in the world around us. We also have a knock on affect on the people and situations around us.
Sometimes in tricky emotionally-charged situations, and in life generally, it can be helpful to play devil's advocate with our own thoughts and feelings. If we are seeing something as shady or bad, riddled with problems or very dysfunctional, how might we be able to see it differently? Is it possible to see the situation from a different light? Is it possible to imagine a different scenario around the possible events behind it and then switch the feeling we have around it? For example, switching anger to compassion for the people involved. Here is one scenario - maybe we have observed your boss who is now annoying and disruptive with many of your colleagues. We now feel very angry with him and don’t trust him in any way at all. But how does it feel now if we look at the same situation and observe that our boss’ current behaviour is as a result of his past? In the present, our boss is now acting out his childhood, where he was being abused at home and at the time felt so unable to deal with his emotions that today very small things in the office act as uncontrollable triggers for him. When you turn the scenario around in your head, see how it leaves you feeling, and ask what impact does that have on how you then wish to respond?
Of course, with all of this there is often the need to get clarity on a situation, which is why it can be vital to communicate, talk, get feedback, to find out; to get information in any way possible. Often this leads to a very clear truth, and with this brings piece of mind for all concerned. However, it’s not always possible to get the clarity we need in a given situation. For example, we may have deeply unresolved feelings about someone who has since died. Within these situations it can still be helpful to look at our own connection between our feelings, thoughts and actions. If necessary, try questioning what we know to be true and what we are not sure of. If we are not sure, we can try looking at it differently, and see how it changes our feelings around the situations. This process can take time, however over days, weeks and months it can make a significant positive difference to how we feel and live our lives.