I grew up a very “emotionally attuned” person. I have been told I have a pretty high EI (emotional intelligence) and have an empathic, compassionate way about me. This is probably why music has always been an essential part of my life; it has always been something I could do, a place I could go, to feel my feelings even more. I don’t think it surprised anyone when I became a therapist!
I’m proud of my ability to tune into emotions easily, but it has also gotten me into plenty of trouble throughout my life. The strange part is, back then, I barely even knew it. As aware as I seemed to be about everyone else, I lacked in the self-awareness department.
Before I became a therapist, I was more like a sponge. I would often “take on” the emotions of others, because I deemed it my duty to feel what others were feeling- especially when it was something painful- as a means of carrying some of that burden or helping them. This especially rang true in my family of origin, with the people I most loved.
What I realized was that this often left me feeling drained, anxious, stressed, and sometimes even resentful of others. I found myself not wanting to be around certain people. But then, when I looked at myself, I saw that really I only had me to blame for allowing myself to become emotionally enmeshed.
You can imagine what the transition was like when I met my husband, who surprised me with his masculinity yet his soft way of acknowledging my feelings and being a pro empath. I was smitten- he was the real deal! Little did I know at the time that we tend to pair up with people who have similar levels of emotional maturity as us.
What I came to realize through his open observations to me though, was how greatly (and negatively) my “ability” to take on others’ emotions was affecting me. He would often bring awareness to the fact that I was complaining about people, complaining about him, and frequently stressed, anxious, or “freaking out”.
Fast forward to our lives today. Our marriage is like many other marriages out there in many ways, I’m sure. We argue, we love, we talk about the future, we share our anxieties. We just got a cat that drives us nuts but is also adorable. But…I had to do some major renovations inside myself to get me to a place where I could partner-up with him and have this kind of relationship. I had to differentiate myself from many patterns and tendencies that were ingrained inside of me.
Here’s what I learned about myself:
My emotions CANNOT steer my ship. My intellect, values, and the guiding principles I cultivate through my own personal development are what guide me through life’s challenges and make me a better partner.
When I can feel my feelings, bring an awareness to them, but CHOOSE how I want to respond in my relationships, I am in control of myself. (I often work with clients on how to respond vs. react. Thinking vs. feeling.)
When I can be in the presence of another human being who is experiencing heightened emotion and simply be me without taking any outside feelings on, I am a better listener, friend, family member, and lover.
When I quit blaming my husband for “making” me feel certain emotions, take ownership of my own feelings and listen to the underlying needs I have, I can meet my husband eye to eye. There is no power or control one of us has over the other.
When I quit blaming my family of origin for the way things turned out in different aspects of my life, I am able to take ownership of who I want to become. I can empower myself to become the kind of partner and person I’d want to be with.
So, the mindset that is saving my marriage (because it’s something I must continuously live out) is the truth that my feelings are precious and valid, but cannot be in control of my actions. Had I lived based out of my feelings, there would probably be plenty of times I would have left my relationship. Feelings cannot always be trusted to make the final call. In fact, they shouldn’t be.
I don’t hold out for feelings of love to prove that my relationship is healthy. I believe that my relationship is healthy because my husband and I actively DO things to keep it that way. The feelings that come from those actions are affirmations of what we are working so hard to create (and maintain) together.
I’ve tried the whole “follow your feelings” approach. It works sometimes, but often leads to more emotions of regret, guilt, and uncertainty. I now empower my thinking self to make the right decisions based on my values and needs, and the values of my marriage. Your life changes when you identify the values you hold in life, and when you become curious about your partner’s driving forces. This also leads to more space for intimacy and emotions to flourish in your relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, it is work to bring two completely different worlds together to create one unit, but when you learn to manage the emotions that come with this kind of transition, the possibilities are endless.
So, what questions do you have about following your thinking self vs. your feeling self? How might this help your relationships?
I want to hear what’s on your mind. Share in the comments if you’d like to be a part of the conversation!