Many people think our feelings are caused by external situations. How many times you have heard some one say “you have hurt my feelings”, or “his comments made me angry”.. or “the break-up plunged her in to depression” or even , “the lockdown is very stressful”? Although these statements express sincere feelings of hurt ( and my heart goes to all of you that are hurting right now), the truth is that the situations have nothing to do with how we feel about them.
And here is why.
According to Cozolino, (2014), feelings are reactions to our thoughts. Negative feelings (of fear, hatred, anger, anxiety etc) are responses to our negative thoughts. When we perceive the situation to be bad we feel bad about it. Also positive feelings (of love, gratitude, hope, happiness etc) are responses to positive thoughts. If we perceive things to be good for us we feel good about them.
Siegel, (2010) postulates that we judge things and others to be “good” if we perceive them to be in line with our expectations, goals, or intentions that are vital to our existence and wellbeing. Likewise we judge others to be bad if we perceive them to be detrimental to our existence and wellbeing.
The first point is ; feelings emanate from our own mind. They are reactions to the meaning we choose to attach to situations. Circumstances– in and within themselves- have neutral valence, they do not have positive or negative feelings to pass on to anybody!
A good example of this is the Smith, (2019)’s Antonis
On the tenth of march 2019 Antonis Mavropoulos (pictured ) missed his flight to Nairobi by just two minutes. This meant he was likely to be late for an important UN meeting scheduled to commence a few hours later. Understandably, Antonis was irritated. However, moments later news broke. Ethiopian Airlines plane, flight no ET302 that Antonis missed had crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 157 people on board. Unsurprisingly, Antonis ( pictured alongside the plain wreckage ) was grateful for missing the flight after all. Antonis’ feelings of irritation changed to gratefulness because his perception of the situation (missing the doomed plane) changed from “bad” to “good”. Remember, Antonis’ situation did not change (he did not get into that flight he missed) but, in the light of additional information about the fate of the flight he was initially unhappy to miss, did sway his perception.
The second point is; since we are in control of our feelings we have the power to change how we feel by changing the meaning of our experiences.
It is like watching a Television program. If you are terrified by what you are watching just change the channel or switch the Television off. Even if you do not have control over the Television you still have control over your mind, just switch your attention off it.
We might not always be able to prevent situations from happening but we can always control how we feel about them (Cazolino, 2014). If we do not want how we are feeling about the situation we have the power to change the feeling.
To me, this is one of the most empowering truths I have ever learned. Later, we will learn more practical tips on how to regulate our feelings. For now though, let us see why do we have different levels of emotional resilience.