I thought I was being a kind a caring person. When a friend got a crappy haircut and asked me if I liked it, I said yes. When my mother baked chicken until it was so dry it tasted like sandpaper, I gagged it down and said it wasn’t that bad. When my best friend got engaged to a total jerk, I congratulated her and kept quiet.
I was being polite. I had grown up believing that this was the way I was supposed to behave. I was a country club kid who knew which fork to use and when to stop wearing white. I heard the message “big girls don’t cry” loud and clear, so I didn’t cry, even when I felt like crying. I thought my opinion would “hurt people’s feelings” and I wouldn’t want to be rude so instead I said nothing. The misconception here was that I had the power over other people and their thoughts. It also implied a polite person wouldn’t speak their mind.
The problem with squashing down your feelings and not speaking your mind is that eventually your brain stops recognizing the signals that the body is sending. The neural pathways need to be used. The more times we use them, the stronger our connection to them. When over a period of months and eventually years we stop acknowledging our feelings we lose the ability to feel our emotions at all.
Where did I regain mine?
When my daughter was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2, I decided to home-school her with the help of a program called SonRise. Part of this program is getting really comfortable with whatever your autistic child is doing in order to share moments of connection with them. We talked about what the autistic behaviors were that my daughter displayed and how I felt about them. It was quite quickly apparent that not only could I not recognize my feelings, but when I did feel them, I didn’t have the language to talk about them. I was given an emotional cheat sheet to help me out. Diagrams of little emoticons with their emotion listed beside them. When someone asked me how I felt, I would choose the face and say the word that labelled it.
Check out this much fancier version called a Feeling Wheel.
As I began encouraging my emotions by celebrating even the slightest emotional sensation and then really sitting with it, I was able to slowly rewire the connections between body and brain. It felt like I was rewiring a computer without a manual.
Every once in a while I would feel a new connection happen. I would know what I wanted to order in a restaurant. I would have a strong opinion about what type of vehicle I wanted. I would feel an inner voice telling me to do something that was outside my norm and I would listen.
After I could feel my feelings the next step was to examine their source. As Victor Frankel said "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power” What is this power? It is the choice to examine the belief between stimulus and response and see if it’s working for you. What is a belief? It’s something we take as fact. These facts can come from reliable sources or they can come from not so reliable sources.
We take on the beliefs of our parents, our peers, our culture and our religion. Quite often these beliefs remain unexamined for a lifetime.
One example of this from my own life is my beliefs around being late. I used to work in the television and film industry. During the audition process you are given an audition time booked for you by your agent. If you are late, there is rarely a second chance. The casting agent has to choose from hundreds of people with your looks and your skills so picking someone who isn’t on time would not make much sense to them. Because of this I adopted the habit of being very early. When friends were late to meet me, I used to get really angry. When I examined my beliefs I discovered that I thought their lateness indicated that they didn’t value my time. Why was I getting angry then? If they didn’t value my time what was I accomplishing by being in a funk when they arrived? Instead I replaced that belief with the thoughts “maybe there’s traffic” or “perhaps they need better time management skills”. Replacing limiting beliefs with ones that serve you is a big part of being happy.
Here are a few quick steps to help you find your happy thought or to change the ones that aren’t working for you.