You should fix what bothers you and be strong. Many are drilled on this lesson beginning at an early age. It is taught by the culture at large, parents, teachers, coaches. As a result of this conditioning, you may sacrifice your feelings and instead strive to talk yourself out of what you feel, ruminating and problem-solving to such an extent that you entirely lose sight of the original feeling that generated all of the thinking.
Feelings aren’t always as they appear and are easily disguised as thoughts. Until we get under the thoughts and into the root emotion, obsessing will go on and on. Once you know what you feel, you can metabolize it, move on, make a change, and communicate. However, until you reach that point, you’ll stay stuck in the overthinking trap.
Thinking and problem-solving help us in the short term avoid the pain of difficult emotions and feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. In the long term though, systematically avoiding your feelings leads to a life unlived, where you find yourself in situations, relationships, and even with an identity that doesn’t actually reflect your deeper sense of self.
Here are four consequences of not trusting your deeper emotions:
- You repeat the past. Our deeper feelings are a roadmap. They’re a roadmap for what we don’t like and what’s toxic or upsetting to us. If you bypass that roadmap, you end up repeating situations or relationships that cause you pain. The thinking will beat you up, criticize you, tell you what you did wrong or berate you for being in this situation again. Alternatively, allowing yourself to feel means you may finally grieve, let go, and bring in self-compassion. Tuning in like this will practically guarantee that you’ll recognize these feelings the next time they come up and take better care of yourself to get out of that problematic situation/relationship or not get into it in the first place.
- You are prone to anger and/or resentment. When we don’t let our feelings be present and we talk ourselves out of them or tell ourselves to suck it up and not be a “burden,” “needy,” or “dramatic,” we repress that original emotion. Each time another troubling event comes up, we repress it, and over time, we become emotionally overloaded. It only takes a small trigger for this pressure cooker to pop. People around you may not understand, and at this point, you, too, may not understand your overreaction. Tuning in when upset means you don’t accumulate upsets in your emotional bucket. It also means you clear the decks in the moment when those around you are better able to hear and understand you.
- You have dysfunctional relationships. If you can’t connect with your feelings, it’s likely hard to communicate them to the people you care about. As a result, your loved ones may not have a solid sense of how you feel about them or the various events in your life. Instead, your emotions come out in indirect and dysfunctional ways—you may be upset about something but not share it and act passive-aggressively or you control and micromanage every aspect of your life. Or, you may overly caretake others and be codependent. Or, you may act out and rebel in ways that are self-defeating and confusing to your loved ones. Also, it makes it easy to mistreat you in relationships because others know you are not going to hold them accountable.
- You feel empty. Not trusting your feelings often leads to a superficial existence. Sure, you have relationships, a job, and the various trappings of life, but if it’s not based on your true deeper self, then none of it feels that meaningful. So, you go to dinner with friends, but you leave feeling empty and unseen, or you perform your job but it feels meaningless. As I discuss in my book, Overcoming Stress Induced Brain Fog, when we make time to feel our emotions, our life outlook adjusts to high definition and we’re more present. Tuning into your emotions means you will be open and authentic with others and this leads to greater closeness. It also means you pick work and activities that reflect and nourish this deeper self.