Why do some things affect you in the way they do? Why did you make certain decisions that were not in your best interest?
It is said that both good and bad experiences can help you become a better version of yourself… if you are willing to learn. I believe that learning about your feelings is the most important thing to do in order to become that better version.
Feelings sometimes take you to places you don’t want to be. Understanding your feelings can prevent you from repeating the same mistakes, make you better prepared to handle life’s challenges or avoid bad situations.
In addition to living a more contented and fulfilling life, when you discover what is really going on with your feelings, you can improve your existing relationships with your children and all of those around you. You can also create new healthy relationships, instead of falling into toxic ones.
My divorce was a bad experience, however it was also a blessing in disguise. It was a blessing because it set me off on a journey into self-discovery.
When I began my journey, the first thing I realized was I couldn’t even articulate my feelings or understand where they came from. On the surface, it seemed as if I had it all put together but internally I was a mess!
I felt trapped by these feelings, which made life a constant struggle in trying to understand them. Ignorance to such feelings not only affected my relationship with myself and others, it also kept me from living a more fulfilling life.
What do we mean by feelings? Let’s take a look.
When it comes to understanding feelings, I’m going to be referencing two types of feelings, ‘temporary’ feelings and ‘habitual’ feelings.
Temporary feelings are experienced in a given moment and are very short-lived. For example, you might experience sadness from watching a sad movie. Or you might experience excitement from a surprise birthday party, or anger from stubbing your toe on a table. These feelings don’t last long and usually disappear with the event that activated them.
Then there are what I call ‘habitual’ feelings.
Habitual feelings are triggered by subconscious beliefs, particular to the individual. They are based on a person’s past programming or earlier experiences. These feelings are so embedded in you, that it becomes an automatic reaction and may make you feel justified in your behavior.
Examples of habitual feelings
Let’s say there are two students who were assigned a project from the same teacher. The teacher grades the projects and gives the same feedback to each student, “Your project is well done but you could use some improvements in your supporting statements”. One student responds by saying, “Thank you for your feedback, I will do more research to improve my supporting statements.”, but the other student feels angry and annoyed. They react, saying
“I worked so hard on this project! My work is never good enough for you!”.
The latter student is unaware that his reaction is due to his feelings about past experiences. Maybe it brought him back to a time where his parents always favored his older brother and left him feeling like nothing he did was good enough.
This example is considered an ‘habitual feeling’ because he is reacting based on what he experienced in his relationship between his brother and parents. Instead of looking at his teacher’s feedback as a way to improve his work, he is ‘blinded’ by his past feelings or ‘habitual feelings’ and relives it with the current situation. Therefore, it is possible that every time he is put into a situation where extra effort is asked from him, he may react each time with a sense of not feeling good enough.
Jane is a 35 year old housewife with two children, ages 5 and 3. She prides herself in keeping a lovely home and is there for all of her children’s needs and she supports her husband wholeheartedly. She is an advocate for providing a safe environment for children and believes that spouses are a source of motivation and growth. However she has a secret, her husband is emotionally abusive and she puts up with his behavior.
Jane denies and puts up with her emotionally abusive husband and wants the outside world to know that she has a happy home life.
This is also an example of ‘habitual feelings’ because instead of setting boundaries for herself, she continues to live with disapproval, criticism and shame. She continues to live with what she has known or with what is familiar from her past experiences. She may know ‘theoretically’ that this is not a way to live but she puts up with it because she is defaulting into her programming and thinking that she doesn’t deserve better.
Finding the root cause of feelings
As I mentioned before, after my divorce I felt like a mess internally. Eventually I realised that finding the root cause of my habitual feelings could be the key to breaking free of them.
This is when I started working on the ‘Road Map to Me’.
Since ‘habitual’ feelings are based on past programming and earlier experiences, I began to travel down memory lane, and remembered events that were traumatizing and that left a huge negative impression of myself. My timeline began from the age of 4 to middle school. As I wrote down each event, I identified and labeled each event with a feeling or a description of how I felt.
Upon completion, I began taking these feelings and connecting them to decisions I’ve made in my life that led to a lot of heartache.
For example, from the age of 28 to 35 years, I worked as a preschool director. During that time, I worked 12 to 14 hours per day until I started losing my hair. To the outside world, I looked like a dedicated hard-working woman but on the inside I was tired and miserable.
I came to realize that I worked ridiculously hard in order to prove to myself that I was a responsible person. My past showed me that I experienced events in which I felt second rate and not valued.
Do not give your past the power to define your future.
The ‘Road Map to Me’ was hard work and not easy at times to reflect on but it definitely led me to a path of self-discovery and freedom!
Work on your ‘roadmap to you’
When feelings rise up, instead of letting them carry you along, identify them and question them.
To go deeper, the timeline exercise will help you pinpoint the habitual feelings that are doing you a disservice and holding you back from happiness. A qualified life coach can help you with this.
Either way, making a conscious effort to understand your feelings is the way to a better, happier new you.