Feelings as a source of information have been discounted for so long, we have some catching up to do! There are some pieces of feeling-related advice that have become commonplace like “listen to your heart”, which is progress.
But what does that actually mean?
Here are some guidelines for how to listen to yourself in a helpful way:
ONE: In the moment you are trying to listen to your feelings, are you experiencing intense emotional pain?
If you are, there are probably some things you want to say or do that are coming from a place of pain vs your true heart feelings. The feelings (including and especially the pain) are super important to process, but it is not the time to take action on them yet if the pain is active.
So, if you are in emotional pain, the only thing you need to do is pay attention to those feelings by acknowledging them (here are exact instructions on how to do that). That IS listening to yourself. You can do that by writing them out, venting them out to a safe third party (a therapist is a good option), or moving your body.
If you are overwhelmed with emotional pain, you want to be careful of flooding (read about that here) and it is best to move away from the pain so you can process and get some perspective. Otherwise staying with the pain is likely re-traumatizing you.
TWO: Do you feel a sense of peace with the feeling?
You know how a truth can come to the surface and it can be a hard one, but all of the sudden the waters are calm? It doesn’t mean the feeling is easy. It means the truth is here and it is what it is.
If you are in that space, you can trust that guidance to take whatever action you need to take. If you need help on exact guidance that comes through common emotions and what to do with that guidance, check out this guide.
Let this not be confused with employing avoidance strategies that let you “work around” the uncomfortable feelings. For example, “It doesn’t matter” or “this will blow over”.
Uh. That’s called sweeping things under the rug. That gives you peace because you don’t have to deal with it. That’s not what I’m talking about.
There is no around. There is THROUGH. Either now or later. I try to choose through if I can. Otherwise, the “later” option usually involves more emotional pain.
No thank you.
Our defenses and coping mechanisms are sneaky. So make sure you are not just repeating old patterns here. Again: therapists as an objective third party can help with this. They are trained to be accurate mirrors. Find one you trust and go to them in these moments.
THREE: How is your thinking?
This is a must. When you tell the story of what is upsetting you or bringing up big feelings, you want to check for these things:
Are you making any assumptions? Like are you thinking you know how someone feels, but they haven’t told you that? Are you connecting dots and putting pieces together on your own?
When you are telling the story (writing it or telling it to a safe third party), is your narrative pretty coherent? Meaning, you’re not jumping all over the place? Instead it’s just a clear, simple, cohesive narrative.
Are you saying or thinking things like: “people always do this” or “why does this always happen to me”? Is it a complaint or feeling you find yourself having a lot over the course of your life? That’s a clue that there is likely an old program running (read what that means here) and probably doing work on yourself first is the best way to go.
You want to make sure your thinking is straight because you don’t want to get caught following the guidance of misled thoughts (we all have them). Read more about that here.
So, you just want to check yourself when you are trying to “follow your heart”.
Following your heart means “true”, “helpful”, “timely” and “kind” action.