Fucking Feelings: How To Manage Emotional Tidal Waves

So I think above anything else that I talk about in my daily professional life, I talk about feelings. Feelings/emotions/affects are really the bread and butter of a psychologist. Without them, there would be no need for us.

You know the cliché therapist question – “How does that make you feel?” – well I have actually asked that. Numerous times. My job entails getting my patients to access their emotions, label them and then learn to manage them, usually through cognitive processes (like journaling etc.) but ultimately my hope is that they learn to feel their feelings.

This sounds obvious and straightforward. An image of Tarzan beating his chest exclaiming “I Tarzan, I feeeeel” comes to mind. But in actual fact you wouldn’t believe how hard this is for most of us.

Humans, despite being highly – I mean HIGHLY – emotional beings, and with all our science and our knowledge, are in fact absolutely terrified of feelings. We spend a great deal of our psychological energy finding ways, both conscious and unconscious, of escaping and avoiding feeling our vast range of emotions. We regularly use denial, suppression, displacement and other defense mechanisms to ward off feelings.

Of all the defense mechanisms, intellectualization and rationalization are my top two faves. I use these frequently and unfortunately having studied psychology only aids this cause because now I have a wonderful, jargon-rich vocabulary that allows me to convince myself that I am in control of my feelings all of the time. In psychological terms, this is called delusional! Basically, all of us despite our best efforts succumb to our emotions at some point or another. If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t be human. Those who truly don’t experience real emotions are called psychopaths.

So the bad news is that all of us feel things some or all of the time. Most of the time, however, our feelings are mild enough for us to cope with during the course of a day without causing us too much disruption (or dysfunction). For example the anger and frustration that surges briefly when a car pulls out in front of you without indicating is usually transient. And it wouldn’t be appropriate to break down in tears every time someone at the office greeted you abruptly and without any real interest in your state of mind. We generally have to get used to a range of emotions that circulate within us, waxing and waning like the ocean currents, as we live out our daily lives.

And to this end, some of us are more adept than others at managing these tide-like affective changes. The research would say that those who had a stable upbringing and attentive parents are more equipped to manage their feelings. Women might say that women are more capable of handling and talking about their feelings. Men might agree. All in all, I would say that a concept like EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is a useful way of measuring and plotting one’s “abilities” on a spectrum. But even the most emotionally intelligent person can get bogged down or turned inside out by a surge of raw emotion.

What I’m trying to say, is that no matter where you may fall on the “emotionally intelligent” continuum, there WILL BE times when your feelings become overwhelming and cause you to think or act in strange and uncharacteristic ways. And I think it is these – the tidal wave, Godzilla type feelings – that scare us the most. Just take a moment right now to think of the last time your feelings got the better of you, overwhelmed you, or made you do or say something you regretted. I doubt whether you will struggle to recall such a time. Because we’ve alllllll been there. And it sucked, right? Now I bet you that 9 out of 10 people will be thinking back to some issue they had in a relationship. Yes of course we have blow ups at work and in traffic and with Telkom. But more than anything our emotions get the better of us within interpersonal fucking relationships. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends, lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, and mother in laws – these are the true catalysts of emotional tidal waves!

So what can we do about these goddamn annoying feelings and the way they wreak havoc in our lives? Without them we’re zombies, with them we turn into Cape Town weather; but hopefully as we get older we learn better strategies for weathering the storm. Each of us, in our own way, will do this differently. As I have mentioned before, there are the good old-fashioned avoidance techniques. There is numbing. There are drugs and booze. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: the only way to truly deal with your feelings is to find a way of expressing them. And this is especially true for our feelings within interpersonal relationships. The best way to help another person understand one’s point of view thereby encouraging their empathy and compassion (something that is greatly needed when the Godzilla feelings cause Godzilla reactions in us) is to tell them what it is we are experiencing. Some of us are better at talking about our feelings than others. So if you struggle to express your emotions verbally than find other ways such as through art, writing, or even exercise. Ultimately the mantra for feelings is the same as the one for farts: BETTER OUT THAN IN 😛 .flower power

Some useful links:

<3 What’s Your EQ? – Take the Test

<3 Five Key Skills for Raising Emotional Intelligence

<3 How to Gain Control of Your Emotions

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