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Can we choose how we feel?

Updated: Nov 21, 2021

I first heard the idea that we could choose how we felt, moment by moment, from a friend who was responding to my obvious distress courtesy of the latest drama (whatever it was- I can't remember now). That was 30 years ago. My life at that time was an emotional roller-coaster over which I had no control. I was slow, yes, but eventually understood what he had meant and what had seemed totally impossible to me back then - choosing to feel calm and peaceful inside - is how I live my life most of the time now.

I could not even relate to what he was saying back then- I remember being quite sure that I didn't even want to be in control of my emotions (despite the horror of never really knowing when I woke each morning if I would be in a state of despair or elated with happiness by the end of the day) in case I became a robot-like figure who didn't care about others. If someone around me was upset, I couldn't help but become upset myself as well. This partly happened because I did not understand back then that I am an empath, but also because the people around me had "fallen apart" with me whenever I had been upset in the past and so I interpreted that as "proof" that they cared about about me. It then became was the way I tried to show that I cared for others. Appearing anything other than totally distraught when something "bad" was going down would not be cool!

So this wonderful friend told me a story: he said, "Imagine you are out driving in the countryside far from anywhere and you come upon 2 cars that have collided. Perhaps you see someone trapped in one car and another person has got out of the car, injured, and probably in shock. What do you do? Well, by your line of reasoning (as in, mine as a twenty-something emotional roller-coaster sort of a chick) you would join them emotionally by descending into despair, wailing and crying and so on. Will they feel supported by you? Do you think they will be glad they have company to join them in their distress?"

Well, of course that changed the way I understood emotions and helping. I realised that uncontrolled "joining in" was not only unhelpful, but missing an opportunity to help! This motivated me to want to be able to keep calm and choose my emotions. It would not mean I didn't care- it would mean that I DO care.

I had needed "permission" to change.

We can all choose to not only respond to life's challenges calmly, but to feel calm as we do. This means that our "flight or fight" survival reaction is not triggered - automatically making us react aggressively or defensively. When we feel calm, our mind is clear and we are able to respond with clarity and care.

Choosing our emotions is not only possible, it is liberating!

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