I have long believed that a person’s ability to thrive rather than merely survive is dependent upon one’s ability to process one’s feelings. The only thing that can make life unbearable is unbearable feelings. A person with a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is able to tolerate uncomfortable and painful feelings, understand and make sense of them in order to make consistently good life decisions. Feelings are invaluable information. An emotionally mature person becomes more and more curious about his or her feelings and less and less afraid of them.
For the last six months, Sammy has been feeling lonely in his marriage of ten years. During this time, an attractive divorcee in the office noticed that he was not himself and offered to talk to him. Sammy took her up on her offer to talk over some coffee. As he opened up to her, an emotional connection developed which was fueled by his physical attraction to her. It wasn’t long before their relationship turned into an intimate one. Natasha has also been feeling detached and alone in her marriage of ten years. She has tried to convince herself that everything is fine, but the loneliness just won’t go away. She has also tried to distract herself in order to avoid acknowledging these feelings which were threatening her marital stability. A man in the office noticed that she was looking down and asked what was bothering her. She started to open up to him and then suddenly realized something was wrong doing so. Instead, she chose to talk to a close friend. As she began to face her unbearable loneliness, she began to understand why she felt so alone. She decided to see a professional. This gave her the courage to share the truth with her husband which led to marriage counseling. After a year of counseling their marriage was revitalized and back on track.
The cause of many self-destructive behaviors is our inability to tolerate emotional pain and process it. Disowned painful feelings that are pushed out of our awareness most always have self-destructive consequences. To succeed in life, we must learn how to listen to our hearts. This principle is supported by our sages who teach us in Pirkei Avoth, that one of the forty-eight ways to succeed in life is “binat halev,” which means to understand one’s heart. Feelings are our teachers. When we dismiss them we run the risk of harming our emotional and spiritual well-being.
Here are three questions to ask yourself in order to help you process uncomfortable feelings:
1. What am I feeling? Name the feeling or feelings and take full ownership of them. Remember, the feelings I experience are mine whether I like them or not.
2. Why am I feeling this? Try to make sense of the meaning of the feeling.
3. What is the best thing I can do about this feeling?
The more we practice listening to our feelings, the more tolerable they become. And the more we are able to tolerate and make sense of our feelings, the more alive and empowered we feel.