Can you explain how feelings work?
October 24, 2014 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I guess I'm 39 going on 9 but I need you to explain feelings please, and what I might be able to to about them. Can I stop/manage/fast-track the negative ones somehow? Illustrative example inside but I'd really like to hear broad principles please

Here's an illustrative example: I met someone for a date. She wasn't interested, played with her phone, left conspicuously early. Rationally, I understand I'm not for everybody and am glad the unpleasantness was brief. I came away not feeling anything, just neutral, but thinking I should be feeling some hurt, wondering why I wasn't feeling bad. A few hours later I find myself going around the house feeling angry at my housemate for not doing more housework. Rationally, I know I'm angry at being given the cold shoulder and my housemate is really fine. But for a while I'm seething with resentment at the innocent housemate in feelings, but in thoughts, I'm understanding it has nothing to do with her.
So I think I have the cognitive ability to understand what I'm feeling and to stop acting out on feelings (I didn't leave any passive aggressive notes for the housemate in the end, the whole drama was played out in my head). But it seems like feelings have to run their course regardless of what my rational mind is telling them.
However is there any way to re-plumb the feelings so that, for example, sadness/anger at a bad date doesn't get misdirected at innocent bystanders and just gets worked through directly?
Is it possible to learn to get those feelings out of the system faster so I don't feel bad for such a long time?
Is it possible to avoid the negative feelings entirely like some kind of spiritual sage?
Are there any books or other resources for the lay person that explain why emotional plumbing is messed up and how to resolve it?
If you've been through this yourself and learned something, or seen someone else grow through it, I'd be so grateful to hear from you.
posted by Gomoryhu to Human Relations (23 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible to avoid the negative feelings entirely like some kind of spiritual sage? 

If you are chronologically 39 and this committed to not feeling bad feelings when they hurt (and later expressing them as anger), then I think therapy or at the very least some good self-help books are needed.

I cannot recommend any books or workbooks for this, but I believe someone who's been where you are will have suggestions.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:08 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Write about the thing that happened? I definitely find articulating your feelings can help you understand and more fully experience them and learn from/get past them more fully. In other words, I guess, writing an experience down forces you to think about what you really do or don't feel and why and not sublimate it into something else.
posted by Nomiconic at 3:13 PM on October 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible to learn to get those feelings out of the system faster so I don't feel bad for such a long time?

Sometimes distraction works. Movies, books, video games, any activity that occupies the mind and doesn't let you take out your emotions on innocent bystanders. If distraction isn't working, physical work often works for me - working out or cleaning house. My roommate once told me to clean the bathroom when I was feeling down. I asked whether it would make me feel better and she said "Probably not, but either way, we'll have a clean bathroom." Other times, I've found it best just to wallow. And really really wallow, until the wallowing is so hard to sustain that it becomes ridiculous. EG: Breakup with guy I'd been dating for a few months: weekend at home in pajamas, watching the saddest movies I could find, eating ice cream, taking long baths to cry in. By Sunday afternoon I could barely remember what I was upset about.

Is it possible to avoid the negative feelings entirely like some kind of spiritual sage?
I don't know. Maybe by not caring that much in the first place? But that seems kind of counterproductive. I've found that I can reduce emotional volatility in the workplace, for instance, by not getting too invested in outcomes. But that seems like it would be a bad approach for dating.

Are there any books or other resources for the lay person that explain why emotional plumbing is messed up and how to resolve it?

You might want to read about cognitive behavioral therapy - it's not exactly on point but it seems relevant, it's about controlling your response to emotional triggers. But honestly it doesn't sound like your emotional plumbing is that messed up. You controlled your temper even when you felt bad, you didn't blow up at your date or your housemate. This is actually kind of evolved.

You might want to work more on why you want to shut off your feelings so much. And why hurt and embarrassment/shame show up for you as anger? But don't beat yourself up about this, you're not particularly more dysfunctional than most of us.
posted by yogalemon at 3:16 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Emotions are odd beasts, and they rarely work the way we want or expect them to. I don't think it's possible to "re-plumb" the way you experience emotion, matching the appropriate feeling with the appropriate time and the appropriate recipient - but I think it's significant that you recognize the inconsistencies, and have the presence of mind to restrain acting on emotions when inappropriate. Life is an accumulation of learning gained through direct experience - taking inventory of what you're feeling and gaining insight as to why you're feeling it is part of the trip. I think you're doing OK, or at least taking steps that will improve where you're at. A therapist can help with this as well, if sometimes your feelings are too much of a puzzle for you.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:29 PM on October 24, 2014

Feelings don't necessarily happen in the moment, but rather with time to let things "sink in" and be mulled over. You're not weird. My husband, for instance, seems to have a delayed response in getting angry.

I've found that the fastest way for me to get over something is a combination of rational directed analysis of the situation to realign my perspective, and allowing myself to experience and acknowledge my feelings rather than bottling it up (which seems to drag it out). And often I use the mantra that (whatever it was), it isn't important in the grand scheme of things, let it go.
posted by lizbunny at 3:29 PM on October 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of things:

One is to have a friend to call when things like crappy dates happen. Like, a friend you can put on speed dial who isn't going to judge you for having gone out on a crappy date, who will just buy you a beer and listen to you complain and then play some video games with you for awhile. It's best if you can tell them why you need some distraction or sympathy or whatever it is.

Another thing you can do, if you find yourself being grumpy with someone, is to just tell the person you're in danger of taking it out on why you're feeling the way you feel.

In the example with the date gone bad/roommate interaction (if you had said something to your roommate) you might just say, "Ugh. I'm sorry I'm being so grumpy. I'm just pissed off that this date went badly!" Open up some dialogue and let the person you're talking to know why you're not your usual self.

A therapist can help you learn how to communicate your feelings and then help you to step outside them a bit so you can get a handle on them. This will take time and work and a willingness to open up and let someone in to help you tinker around in your own head.

In the meantime, read David D. Burns's Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 3:37 PM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, feelings are tricky. I don't think you're that weird, but this is still a good question to ask. I think one useful step is to use "bug reports" like this one to figure out what part of your programming is going wrong.

E.g., maybe you shut down your hurt feelings with a "I shouldn't feel this way; she doesn't have to like me," damming up the feelings until you found a someone you "should / could" legitimately be upset with because they'd broken a rule. In that case, maybe you have to give yourself permission to feel bad even when the other person didn't do anything wrong? But maybe you're uncomfortable about feeling hurt or vulnerable, so you waited until you could express the negativity as anger, in which case maybe you could work on getting better at noticing and comforting yourself when you're feeling hurt or rejected?

Total guesses -- just giving possible examples. This re-plumbing you speak of is valuable but hard work, hard to notice. Any situation like the one you notice does provide valuable information that is worth listening to.
posted by salvia at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I believe the spiritual aspect is not to avoid bad feelings but to transmute them, to radically face them, and thus to weaken the hold they have on you.

A good book for this is Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett Goleman.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:50 PM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I learned a lot about this from a consultant I hired who happened to be a certified Myers-Briggs MBTI instructor. Using myself as an example, I am an INTJ personality, and I gleaned a lot by doing more research on my personality and preferences. An example might look like this page (not an endorsement):

Interestingly, this page points out at least a couple of areas that I seem to share with you:

"May be unaware (and sometimes uncaring) of how they come across to others"

and under "Rules to live by for INTJ Success:"

"When You Get Angry, You Lose. Your passion and intensity are strong assets, but can be very harmful if you allow yourself to fall into the "Anger Trap". Remember that Anger is destructive to your personal relationships. Work through your anger before you impress it upon others, or you will likely find yourself alone. Disagreements and disappointments can only be handled effectively in a non-personal and dispassionate manner."

There is a lot more material to read on this, but I think it basically shows the way that, as potential problems become clear, we can choose to accept them for what they are and embrace the need for change. I have found specific ways to change by looking deeper into the INTJ realm, though I can't say I've personally felt the need to do so with the specific issues you mentioned.

I should also note that some will argue that MBTI is hogwash, but after researching the topic, it seems that there are two very well-spoken, scientifically-qualified sides to that issue. At the very least it's been helpful to me in understanding specific relationships and has saved me from doing some very, very stupid things in my personal & business lives (like giving up my business, giving up on relationships, etc.).

The bottom line is that this tool is meant to help you with individuation or further development of your personality.

“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”
― C.G. Jung

Best of luck to you!
posted by circular at 4:08 PM on October 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I find naming things verbally is quite powerful, and it may help you connect a bit more to the feelings.

So, for example, if you find yourself blaming friends and roommates in your mind and are conscious that this is misplaced, consider telling them as soon as you notice:

"I'm not really myself. I guess I am more upset than I realized about [x incident]. Sorry if I seem [distance/distracted]"

This will be a signal to yourself to reconfigure things to the appropriate source of frustration.

Also, you may be surprised to find your friend or roommate is actually picking up signals on your mood. If they respond with "Yeah, you seemed a bit annoyed" this gives you some good feedback that you are not so closed off on your feelings as you thought, and also puts them at ease that you are not in conflict with them. It may even deepen a friendship and help you discover some friends can be that ally to help you through this.

Finally, you are allowed to feel feelings the way you feel them and when you feel them. There is no rule book, it is not a race to get to the feelings faster. Being able to hold things back can be a great advantage at some times, and a disadvantage at others, so give yourself a bit of a break on that and congratulate yourself on being a good observer of your behaviour. Lots of people are completely unconscious of this stuff.
posted by chapps at 4:16 PM on October 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

feelings come and go. both good and bad, they're just visitors that sometimes arrive unbidden. it's what you choose to do with them that matters, and like all things in adulthood you definitely have a choice here.

avoiding negative feelings is the surest way to a breakdown, callousness or alcoholism. it sounds more like you need help with identifying your feelings than avoiding them. masking or hiding feelings can cause them to build to the point where there's a blowout. avoiding "negative" feelings is really, really unhealthy. not looking honestly at feelings can cause acting out, where you transfer emotional energy from one place to another rather than feeling your feelings and moving on.

that's the key, identifying what it is exactly that you are feeling, stepping back from it and deciding what is the appropriate action, if any. a lot of times there's not much you can do, but you can choose not to act out and unleash misplaced anger on others.

it takes practice. one good exercise if you find yourself in an emotionally rocky place is to write it all down. write to yourself, say i'm feeling this, this and this, and i think it's caused by this or that. stepping back and looking at things this way gives you clarity. i had to learn all of this while in the throws of extreme, ongoing anxiety attacks. attacks which were ultimately caused by having bottled up my emotions for so many years. one of the things i learned was that once i started listing probable causes for my feelings i came to see that the list was really fucking long and of course, it was no wonder that i felt the way i did. and i mean it was seemingly little things like not having eaten enough, but coupled with a fight i had with a friend and stress at work and worrying about some future thing, but the tendency was to lump them all together and carry around this big arsenal of emotion that just got unleashed in really inappropriate ways. it's that inability to separate feelings and see them for what they are that causes trouble. keeping a physical, handwritten (not typed) list let's you physically take a breather but it also allows you to get the feelings outside of yourself so to speak and to really look at what they are and where they're really coming from. it's then that you can make a healthy choice of how to act on them, or not. often you find that just checking in with yourself in this way let's you put it all in perspective and let a lot of things just roll off your back.

i will once again stress here that it's all about choice and add that it's also your responsibility to maturely examine your feelings and to then act appropriately. especially if you ever want to have a second date with someone, let alone a multi-year anniversary. take a time out, take a deep breath and look for root causes. and this is just for daily self maintenance. imagine dealing with death or a divorce. no there's some negative emotions that you cannot hide from without going crazy or becoming a total a-hole.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 4:19 PM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am 49 and I did therapy and lots of reading and so on. I have learned a lot about dealing more effectively with my feelings.

I will suggest that if you are that mad about this date not going well, most likely there is something deeper going on. In other words, you actually want to, say, get married and you don't see how to get there from here and you are dating to try to figure out how to get there from here. So a date going badly seems to just be a huge obstacle to your entire vision of your entire future.

Sometimes, you just need to meet the right person. But sometimes, if you do not want to be alone and cannot figure out how to make the relationship thing work, there are some things you need to sort out. So I will second the suggestion that you might consider therapy.

For anger, I have found that coming up with some kind of plan for what I will do about what is bothering me is the best way to stop being hugely pissed off about something. Of course, I first need to understand the exact nature of the thing that is bothering me. Maybe it was something else entirely about the date that hit a nerve with you. Maybe you felt it was racist. Maybe you felt it was age-ist. Maybe there was some other big bugaboo it touched on. I don't know. I am just some stranger on the internet, going on a really brief description. But that's what works for me: Clearly identify exactly why I am mad, clearly identify exactly why I am X level of mad, and come up with a plan for doing something about the thing that is pissing me off so much.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:21 PM on October 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

really seconding chapps' comment above.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 4:22 PM on October 24, 2014

I think you may be looking at this the wrong way. Instead of thinking that you don't understand your feelings and need to do something to control them better, maybe you should give yourself some credit for figuring out that you weren't actually angry at your roommate and not taking out your frustrations on her. A lot of people never would've figured that out and they would've given the roommate hell, or they wouldn't figure it out until after they gave the roommate hell and then they'd have to make peace after a big, stupid fight. You saw the problem and avoided acting like a turd. Not bad!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:14 PM on October 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

Seconding everything Michele in California said.

But I also think people so far seem to be addressing this from a largescale/theoretical angle, so I wanted to add that there are things you can do at a more micro level to address unpleasant experiences as they happen.

Honestly, the date you describe--her behavior sounds pretty rude, and I don't think you'd have been out of line in taking the initiative to end the date early given how inattentive she was being. You wouldn't have had to be snarky or petty (or, god forbid, righteously indignant) about it; just politely say "listen, it's pretty clear that neither of us is feeling this, so if it's all the same to you I think I'm going to head out now."

Learning about redirecting anger and introspecting to discover the hidden feelings beneath your anger are valuable undertakings--and sound like something you might be interested in right now--but it's also just normal to get angry when someone treats you like you don't matter. Maybe part of the reason you were angry is that you were being treated badly and didn't stand up for yourself?
posted by urufu at 5:21 PM on October 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

I had/have a lot of trouble with feelings, although I didn't realize this until relatively late in life.

I found therapy immensely helpful, but it is a big commitment (in at least time and maybe money depending on your insurance) so if you don't feel that you have other things that need sorting out in therapy (I did go for other reasons; the feelings were a side effect) I would suggest trying daily journaling about your thoughts and feelings plus also sitting down to write a serious memoir/autobiography.

I think it's possible to be a successful grown-up and still have the "I am really upset about [thing] but I am going to feel those feelings about [other things] instead". If it didn't bug you and didn't bring you near grumpiness at your housemate, it might not be worth worrying about.

For me, what helped was two things: first, noticing how I had grown up learning to handle feelings and second, getting more attentive about the feelings I do have. To clarify this process: For a variety of reasons, I grew up learning to suppress many feelings. I didn't think of it this way, because my family is a group of kind, loving people who were very intellectually and culturally encouraging and who did their best to give me many opportunities....But when I started to pay attention to my history of feelings, I realized that as loving as my family was, we were very, very strongly discouraged from expressing any kind of anger or disagreement, and expressing anger or disagreement was framed as being very selfish and immature. I also had a frightening, stressful and abusive experience of school in which I learned to be very, very guarded. All this happened so early and went on for so long that by the time I was in my thirties, I often had no idea what I was feeling at any given moment, and I found myself believing that I felt strongly about one thing when really that didn't make any sense. As part of some self-narration stuff (I mean basically telling my therapist All The Things over about two years; my therapist was great) I identified this pattern.

Partly because my therapist asked me a lot of helpful questions and partly because he just listened - like Winnie the Pooh, but taller, wirier and with an expertise in trans issues - I found myself getting more in the habit of noticing feelings, and now I notice them a lot! It's the damnedest thing; I'll be thinking of something and I'll have a thought-that-is-about-a-feeling ("I wish I were the favorite child!" or "I feel really sad that my parents don't recognize my sexuality") and I'll spot it, like spotting a fish leaping out of the water, when before I would have had that feeling and it would have affected my but I would have suppressed all knowledge of the feeling. (Caution - some of these buried feelings are Not Very Nice.) But now that I notice them, I find it easier to just acknowledge them and move on instead of get jerked around by them.

(Notice that this is an essentially rational subject/Freudian notion of psychology where I have feelings that exist in a coherent way even if I don't notice them; maybe this is all so much nonsense and I am really bringing the feelings into reality from the inchoate mess of consciousness when I speak them in my head. But whatever, it's helped a lot - maybe I just have a better, richer and more useful self narrative now, but in any case, I recommend the process.)

So if you actually don't want to go to therapy, I would start a process of daily journaling - try a google doc that you can just open up when you're at the computer and type into for fifteen minutes. Just type what's on your mind - what happened that day, what you're thinking and feeling about it, what memories it brings up. The important thing is to do this for a while - when you look back, patterns will emerge (not all of them entirely to your credit) and it will help you spot emotional stuff. I did this for a couple of years and then somehow I felt like I didn't need to anymore.
posted by Frowner at 5:29 PM on October 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and I second urufu's point. One big thing for me (and for you?) is that I learned early to figure out what I should be feeling and think that I was feeling it. I could easily see myself being really mature and cool about a date being a jerk because it would mess with my self-concept and what I'd learned was acceptable to show that I was upset, even to show myself that I was upset. A big part of identifying feelings is being able to react to them appropriately in the moment, use your words, etc.

Do you have any particular experiences that predispose you to acknowledge feelings only when they are what you should be feeling?
posted by Frowner at 5:32 PM on October 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: But it seems like feelings have to run their course regardless of what my rational mind is telling them.

Yep, that's pretty much how they work. You can't really out-logic emotion, because emotions are subject to different "laws" than rational thought is. It's like trying to start a fire with a slice of cake. The two things just aren't related enough to connect. Your rational mind will tell you that yes, of course you can do that, because rationally, your mind is under your control. However, your rational mind can't handle it when the rules it follows get broken. Emotions are like the weather. You can stand outside and logic all you want about the fact it's the middle of summer and it shouldn't be snowing, but that snow is going to fall out of those clouds until the clouds run out of snow and there's nothing you can do about it.

However is there any way to re-plumb the feelings so that, for example, sadness/anger at a bad date doesn't get misdirected at innocent bystanders and just gets worked through directly?

Go and stand in the snow. Get your coat on and go and stand in the uncomfortable cold while your nose turns pink and your hands turn blue. Fully experience the emotion. Immerse yourself into it like you're jumping into a deep pool of water. This doesn't make much sense, rationally - surely the logical thing to do is hide inside by a nice warm fire with a mug of hot cocoa? But the sooner you get out there and get cold, the sooner it will be over. By hiding indoors, you're just delaying the inevitable.

Choose a safe space for yourself, first of all. Somewhere you feel safe in throwing yourself into anger or fear or whatever it is that's going on. Within that space, limit distractions like the internet or people who will react to your outburst (trained professionals will not react to the things you say and do), but do have some pens and paper, and also some matches. Write down what you're feeling in vivid detail, or talk about it in vivid detail. Think of a balloon. You need to let the emotion, the air, inside the balloon, out, to relieve the pressure. Saying it or writing it down let the energy out. Some people like hard exercise instead. Do what works for you.

Then, when the balloon is deflated, and you have some distance from what happened, use the rational part of your mind to apply a gentle analysis of the situation. What did you want to happen? How would things have gone differently? Is there anything you could have done to alter the outcome? Is there anything you could do differently in the future to try to affect the outcome? By gentle, I'm talking about a simple, light look, not an interrogation of yourself and certainly without applying any recriminations. It's just a reviewing, and a putting in place of things that will help you in your safe space in future.

Get to your safe space as quickly as you can after a troubling event that disturbs your equilibrium. It needn't be a physical location, though that might help. It can be an object that helps you feel calm, or just a state of mind. Also, spend some time working out what sets you off. For me, life got just so much easier when I stopped worrying about other people and started caring more about myself. When I really internalised the idea that everyone is living in their own reality and that my reality and theirs, although they intersect occasionally, don't actually have the power to change the other, I managed to take a step back from other people.

To use your date as an example, the individual in question would, by some standards, be rude. Which is a fair way to think - they weren't following the generally agreed upon protocols for interacting with someone on a first date. The problems start when you start applying that person's reality to your own, maybe by thinking that they should do something differently or more or whatever. "That person is being rude" is about that person. "That person shouldn't treat me that way" is about you. And this situation isn't about you. That person is living in their own little reality-bubble, which is separate from yours. When you start trying to make people live in your reality bubble, you're going to run into problems, because reality doesn't work that way.

With regards to innocent bystanders, it's really great that you're aware of the fact that it's nothing to do with them and aren't attacking them. I think you deserve a pat on the back for that, because that's a really cool thing. Taking something out on someone whose fault it isn't is a really awful thing, as you're aware. So well done you for that. Going back to my balloon analogy, your internal balloon was inflated with anger and the fact your place was a mess came along with a gigantic pin and popped it. Spend some time thinking about why that was the particular thing that popped your balloon. Whatever the reason, deflating the balloon in your safe space, before that point, is a great way to stop yourself from taking it out on the people around you. When there's no air in the balloon, there's nothing to blow at other people.

Is it possible to learn to get those feelings out of the system faster so I don't feel bad for such a long time?

The snow is going to fall for as long as it wants to fall for. But the more open you are to being cold, the more you let it happen, the quicker you'll be able to get back inside. You can't really make yourself get the anger out faster, though you can easily fall into the trap of making yourself angrier in the hopes that it will bleed off quicker (hint: it won't). Spending time just being with the emotion will help it go away more quickly. Emotions just want to be listened to and heard. They're lonely, so give them a hug. It's hard sometimes, to hug your anger or your fear closely, but if you can so it feels heard, it'll stop shouting. All emotions just want to tell you something. Listen to them. What are they telling you?

Is it possible to avoid the negative feelings entirely like some kind of spiritual sage?

Being hardwired for emotions is part of the package, I'm afraid. In The Art Of Happiness, the Dalai Lama talks about going into a supermarket and being overcome with covetousness. He sees all of the things and instantly starts thinking that he wants this and that. If the Dalai Lama can't completely get rid of negative emotions, I don't think the rest of us will be able to. What we can do is lessen the likelihood of having those emotions and lessen the impact of having them. To do that, you need to spend some time thinking about what the cause of a given emotion is, for you. CBT is fantastic for helping you get a handle on the underpinning thought processes that can trigger emotions. Feeling Good is often recommended, but I also like CBT For Dummies. There's a bit in the latter book that describes a single given situation, then lists about a dozen different potential emotional responses to that same situation. Two plus two will always equal four, but rude behaviour doesn't always have to elicit anger. It might elicit guilt at having put another person in a situation where they felt it was necessary to be rude. It might elicit sadness or feelings of worthlessness.

An example from my life, yesterday: my job involves dealing with various different companies. I visit their shops to ensure that these companies are advertising the products that they're paid to advertise correctly. Yesterday, I was visiting a location and needed the help of the shop manager, who refused to help me. I did the checks I needed to do anyway, and drove away angry. As I was driving along having some rather colourful revenge fantasies, I asked myself what it was that I was angry about. I couldn't figure it out at first, but I came to the conclusion I had decided that this guy should have helped me. I was making the mistake of trying to apply the rules of my reality onto someone else's reality. He was busy and didn't have time to help me. I was running into reality not being how I wanted. The anger was coming from me fighting against reality, and that's a fight I'm never going to win. Once I accepted that the game wasn't always going to go my way, the anger just evaporated. Applying "should" to a given situation is a cognitive distortion that CBT can help you (and me!) with. CBT will not turn your feelings off, but it will teach you better ways to handle reality. Being able to think "I'm angry because that person was a jerk" can sometimes help you step back a little and take some of the pressure off, which will give you a chance to get to your safe space.

One other thing I found useful was to think about the fact that nothing is purely good or purely evil. There are a multitude of shades of grey. Which particular shades you see depends on which direction the light is coming from. To use my example as an example, from his perspective, the shop manager was in the middle of a busy shift and just didn't have the time or the staff to get everything done. From mine, he was being obstructionist and preventing me from doing my job correctly. We were both right, within the confines of our respective realities.

I hope this is helpful to you. I know that the idea of hugging my emotions closer to me would have had me panicking and/or raising my eyebrows to my hairline at one point. I'm not suggesting you give in to every emotional whim that you have. Learning to be comfortable with the emotional aspects to your life will make them easier to deal with in the long run. Don't fear your fear, or be angry at your anger. Let them in, in a safe environment, and get to know them. They're your friends and they're just trying to protect you and let you know what's going on. Memail if you want to chat.
posted by Solomon at 6:19 PM on October 24, 2014 [16 favorites]

You could start practicing mindfulness meditation, which helps you detach from life's minor ups and downs. I recommend a book called Mindfulness in Plain English.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:41 PM on October 24, 2014

I did some work with the ManKind Project a few years ago and I highly recommend it.

Acknowledging your negative feelings, expressing them in a healthy, not destructive way are probably the best way to deal with them, in my experience. Trying to suppress them will cause them to resurface in unexpected ways, sort of like you've described with your roommate.

There are some very good suggestions above. You might also try checking in with yourself regularly. Ask yourself how you feel at this moment. Let yourself feel it. Notice how it feels. Then let it pass through you. If you are angry, express it. Yell, punch something that can be punched (pillows, punching bag). If you are sad, cry. Experience it and let it pass through you. After that, you can revisit things with a cleared perspective and examine why you feel that way. Trying to examine it before you've fully felt it can lead to rationalizing it away. Be honest with yourself. Don't hide what you are feeling from yourself. That's something that men are trained to do in our culture from a very early age, and it's destructive, for you and for those around you. The depth of emotion that I learned I had been hiding from myself was shocking, and it was immensely freeing to learn to experience their full range.

My memail is open as well.
posted by natteringnabob at 9:27 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a lot of great advice here about feeling negative emotions more, which I second. I want to add that you may have more feelings that come up as a result of feeling sad or angry - like a "I'm horrible for feeling like this" or "I should be ashamed". Self-compassion is very important while doing this, especially if you have a tendency to emotionally police. What can be useful is thinking where the tendency to emotionally police came from - what is it that you think has to be monitored? Does this link to ideas/thoughts about control? How do you feel when you ask yourslef this question?

You can consider what it is about negative emotions that are negative - why don't you like feeling angry or afraid or sad? Does it feel overwhelming? Or something else? If this feels a scary or really overwhelming, talking to a therapist can be very helpful. They're very good at helping you talk through how you feel/think about your feelings and won't judge you for expressing them. If you have a strong internal judgement towards feelings this can be hugely eye-opening as a different approach.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 2:27 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

But it seems like feelings have to run their course regardless of what my rational mind is telling them.

This should be tattooed on everyone's left arm in big black letters.

You're gonna feel everything or bury it until you get an ulcer. The key is how you cope with those unpleasant feelings.

Hell, I'd E-mail that woman. I'd say its okay if you are not into me, just say no to the date. Some people try to avoid difficult conversations by hurting your feelings, relieving them of the requirement that they feel guilty. Because they forget to feel guilty for blowing you off in front of your face.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:42 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Music is what feelings sound like"

Try a playlist service or a themed radio service. I like 8-tracks, which has lots of angsty playlists that allow you to wallow, roll, root about, and drown in feelings. Explore emotion based tags. Listen to the playlists and see if you want to sing along, punch the air, or shout YEAH!!!

this is what it feels like to be lonely, angry, joyful, in love etc.
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:52 PM on October 25, 2014

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