If they were thinkings, we'd call them thinkings. But instead, we call them feelings. Because they are feelings.
And what we do with them is: we feel them.
God gave us our feelings on purpose. I really believe that He did.
We're not supposed to be controlled by them. But we are supposed to feel them. When bad things happen, we're supposed to feel bad.
Cut me, I bleed. Every single time. That's normal. If I don't bleed, we should all be worried about me.
And it seems to me that the less we feel our feelings, the more they control us. When we don't feel our feelings, they come out sideways.
We all know people who are mad at the world. Or depressed at the world. Or scared of the world. Their feelings don't seem to match their present circumstances. (Maybe we are those people.) Usually, these are sideways feelings that are attached to something that happened way back when, and we never got to feel what we felt, when it happened. We've tried to think or spiritualize our way through it instead.
And then a lot of times, we start to self-medicate with chocolate or shopping or cutting or exercise or bad boyfriends or vodka or meth or too much ministry.
The feelings are still there. Lurking. When we get honest, in the still of the night, we know that this is true.
The other day a really brave teenager asked me, "But what if it seems like the cutting relieves the pain?"
What a smart kid. Totally on target.
Because all our self-medicating behaviors actually do work in the moment. That's why we do them.
And a lot of times, a moment is better than nothing. So we do it. In the moment, it works. Self-medicating behaviors distract and soothe and make it all go away . . . until the moment is over, and our feelings come roaring back, along with the consequences of our binge.
Self-medicating relieves in the moment and makes a mess in the long run.
Feeling our feelings may indeed make a mess right now. But in the long run, we get healed. We get whole. We get healthy.
That's a lot of gain for our pain.
Here's a thought that has helped me and my clients: we are grown-ups now.
Many, many times our very worst feelings, our deepest and most persistent hurts, formed in childhood. We had little or no power over our circumstances, little or no understanding of our emotions or anybody else's, and little or no ability to take responsibility and make appropriate change.
But we are grown-ups now. We have options. We have understanding. We have capacity. And, if we so choose, we can have community. We have help. Resources that walk us through the pain and the sorrow and the anger and the fear.
And when we find ourselves out in the sunshine again, then we've experienced that we can do this thing.
We're not at the mercy of our feelings.
We don't have to ignore them, or out-think them, or out-spiritualize them, or self-medicate.
We can feel them.
We know how to feel, how to get through, how to go on.
A note about medication (not self-medication). Keep track of your functioning. If your sleeping, eating, and moods are not normal (or if you wonder whether they're normal), please see your doctor. You wouldn't try to get over pneumonia without antibiotics. And there's no reason to shove a giant boulder of clinical depression up hill on your own, either. One of my friends says that without her meds, she'd be like a one-legged woman in a butt-kicking contest. I love that! So whatever it takes to kick butt, take it. Under your doctor's supervision, and as prescribed, of course.