Do you remember the crayon commercial from the 70s that showed a girl coloring in the leaves of the tree and using every color of crayon in the box? The voiceover was essentially saying, most kids would paint all those leaves green, but when you’ve got the Crayola crayons jumbo box, you can have leaves that are every color imaginable. Your feelings are kind of like those crayons in the jumbo box—there’s a huge array of emotions that humans can feel.
But we tend to limit ourselves to just a handful that we return to again and again. Maybe you’re an empath and you feel pain for the upset of others. Or maybe you’re a quick temper and spend a lot of time in a narrow range of emotions that range from mild irritation to full-blown rage. Or maybe you’re a natural doubter and you hang out in the realm of distrust and guardedness.
This happens mostly because emotions can be really uncomfortable on a lot of levels—shame feels like you swallowed a bowling ball, anger feels like flames might come out of your head. So when we start to get the feels it’s common to try and stuff them down or ignore them until they “go away.”
Add to that the fact that our culture in general really only accepts a few emotions as normal or desirable—namely happiness and “fine”—and you’ve got even more incentive to stick to the emotions you know and suppress the ones that are the equivalent of magenta or cyan.
But here’s a truth for you: your emotions are messengers from your subconscious that show you what you value, which is pretty important information. They also help you connect to others—nothing like sharing your sadness with someone you trust and feeling heard by them to forge a bond. When we stick to various shades of green, we cut ourselves off from our true nature and from other people. We contribute to our own un-ease and unhappiness.
That’s why the second section of my new book, How to Be a Better Person, contains 48 simple strategies to help you Connect with Your Feelings. As part of my tour of each chapter of the book, here are three of my favorite strategies for maintaining your emotional health. (Got a favorite? Or something you do that’s not listed here? Tweet me @KateHan and use the hashtag #beabetterpersonbook!)
Name Your Feelings
To work with your feelings instead of simply being taken for a ride by them, aim to identify exactly what emotion you’re experiencing. In order to name it, you have to allow yourself to feel it. So, instead of trying to talk yourself out that initial rush of indignation when you feel a friend has slighted you, pause long enough to allow yourself to experience the physical sensations of your upset—the flush in your cheeks, the tightening in your belly. Say out loud, “I am so angry right now. I feel like flames might shoot out the top of my head!” It doesn’t mean you act on your anger; it simply means you experience it. Ironically, the more you can feel that angry feeling, the faster it will move on, as suppressed feelings don’t go away—they go into hiding. When you recognize what you’re feeling and call it what it is, you’ll help yourself move through it.
Investigate Your Disdain
The behaviors that bug you typically mean one of two things. One possibility: you recognize that train in yourself but don’t want to accept it, so you demonize someone for it rather than acknowledge it in yourself. Another: it’s something that you never let yourself do and it drives you crazy that other people think it’s okay. Investigate why something irritates you and you’ll shine a light on a corner of your internal attic that could use a little de-cluttering.
Guilt has a limited purpose—it can point how you didn’t live up to a value that you hold dear. But at some point, it becomes a tool of self-punishment. It’s also self-perpetuating: guilt leads to defensiveness, which leads to lashing out, which probably creates another thing to feel guilty about. The insidious thing about guilt is that it can become habitual. Forgive yourself and experience how good it feels to not carry around the perpetual pit in your stomach. In your mind or in your journal, tell yourself, I did the best I could at the time; next time I will do better. And then keep your word.
For more on feelings (woah, woah, feeee-lings—I’ve been dying to say that since I started this post!), here are some past posts about them:
How You Feel About Anything Comes Down to This One Choice
Why Is It Taking Soooo Long? The Truth About Impatience
Healin’ and Dealin’: 5 Ways to Help with Post-Election Stress
How to Deal with Feeling Irritated
And honestly this is outside my comfort zone, but if you ordered the book, please leave a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Your review will help more people find out about the book and be inspired to read it! Here are a couple of existing reviews that I hope will inspire you (and thank you!):
“Kate Hanley’s refreshing approach to setting a course for positive change is actually doable. I have read articles and books on the so called secret of happiness and none of them are as clear as this.” – Roxy
“Already since reading her book I have updated my to-do list, drank two glasses of water, did some deep breathing and put an I love you note into a box a cereal for my wife. So that is 4 down and 360 to go. Great book. Something to leave by the bed table.” – Kurt
“Kate shows you that there’s no ONE right way to be a better person. There’s actually 401! Within the abundance of offerings and suggestions, you will surely find several ways that are right for you… an enlightened collection of musings that feels good for your soul.” – Brittany
Thank you, and peace!