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Can You Control Your Feelings? This Is Why The Answer Matters

Written by: Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Perhaps you have said, or heard others say, “I can’t control how I feel.” Is that really true?

The answer may surprise you: it’s both yes and no.

The answer is yes, because emotions are a direct and often visceral response to how we view a situation, person, or circumstance. When we ignore or suppress our feelings, they often will find an outlet for expression, often as physical illness, or psychological distress such as anger or resentment.

The answer is also no, because we indirectly have control over our feelings because we choose the perspective that triggers the feelings. Perspectives are subjective, so they are changeable. When/if we change our minds about the stimulus, we have the power to change how we feel about it.

This power is potentially life-altering. By creating a practice of questioning your beliefs and assumptions about your life, you can find pathways to being more effective at creating the life you want.

For example, you may feel hurt that a friend or colleague spoke to you in an unfriendly, curt manner. You may assume that they behaved that way because they’re inconsiderate or have poor social skills. You may harbor resentment over time and/or distance yourself from them.

Now imagine that you later learn that they have been diagnosed with a serious health condition, and have been struggling to get the basic needs of their life met.

This additional information may cause you to change your mind, and thus your feelings for this person. Resentment might change to compassion and a desire to help. A more accurate understanding of their circumstances may cause you to deepen, rather than withdrawing from the relationship.

In summary, in this scenario, you’ve transformed the relationship from distant to intimate, simply by taking an open-minded and curious approach to what felt like unfriendliness.

Now think back to the times that you’ve had negative feelings about a person or situation. Imagine what kind of additional information could cause you to change your mind, feelings, and actions. The possible scenarios are endless, and some are unimaginable. You may decide that some of these situations merit further investigation or inquiry, which can also lead to transformation.

Regardless of whether you pursue a clarifying conversation, this is a valuable exercise for the following reasons. First, you can choose to change your mind and your feelings simply by considering what might be contributing factors. You may discover enough plausible explanations that involve good intentions that your initial negative conclusion may feel decreasingly likely.

Second, consider the cognitive error all or nothing thinking, where we tend to view complex situations as black-or-white, all-or-nothing, or either-or. When we challenge our natural tendency to jump to conclusions based on all or nothing thinking, we promote flexible thinking, and therefore, better problem-solving.

In the previous example, we might be using all or nothing thinking by assuming the other person has a character flaw. While this may be true (after all, don’t we all?), a more forgiving, generous, and fair interpretation is that we all have virtues which sometimes conflict (for example, safety versus freedom) and/or are expressed in our unique way.

Noticing our own all or nothing thinking has many benefits, especially if the situation is an isolated incident. That person may have been having a bad day, or maybe you were the one having the bad day and misinterpreted the tone of voice.

If the behavior is recurring, then it may need to be addressed directly through inquiry. An approach of curiosity, openness, and the benefit of the doubt could pave the way to a collegial conversation and outcome.

The conversation may also reveal a cause for concern. Appreciating differences while kindly drawing boundaries can help create a smooth agree-to-disagree working environment.

In conclusion, when you next feel tempted to conclude this is “just how you feel”, re-examine your beliefs about the situation. The practice can help you generate more positive feelings, be a better problem-solver, and give you time to reassess in a way that could benefit all parties in the long run.

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Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, MAPP, PhD is a leader, coach, speaker, entrepreneur, educator, and writer who inspires and enables others to make our beautiful future a reality. She is the Founder and Convener for Mission and Vision at The Foundation for Family and Community Healing, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that helps all to develop the skills needed to create healthy, rewarding, and resilient relationships with ourselves, each other, Earth, and the loving force that unites us. She is a blogger for Psychology Today and hosts Finding Our Fit, a radio show on WRWK93.9 FM. Her mission is to help individuals, organizations, and communities to become their highest selves and fulfill their deepest, most authentic purpose – our spark within that creates ripples throughout. Learn more about her at Photo credit: Rebecca D'Angelo



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