Mastering Your Feelings and Emotions in Time for Valentine’s Day

You can better manage love by understanding emotions and feelings

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Look beyond cookie cutter expectations, Christyl Rivers

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s time to purge yourself of sentimental feelings.

What? I thought Valentine’s Day was the one day of the year we celebrate our sentimental feelings! We collect hearts and flowers. We reach out, with cultural approval, to tell people how we value them. We have a specific day of the year to honor our feelings of having a crush. We can feed our obsessions with overpriced chocolate and cuddly teddy bears and other plush toys. We can finally put on that sexy lingerie. We can dance as if no one is looking.

We can let down our hair.

Sorry, but buying into all that sentimental freedom is going to injure some ardor and break some hearts. It all has to do with the difference between emotions and feelings. Our feelings are tied to our expectations like a heart charm chain on a teddy bear.

If you already know your emotions and feelings well, you have less susceptibility to the more dangerous Cupid’s darts. But if you are still learning, (like most of us) read on.

It is precisely this dichotomy that makes Valentine’s Day hazardous for the human heart. Be prepared for a St. Valentine’s Day massacre of your sweet illusion if you don’t read your emotions and feelings correctly.

Feelings are basically concepts that you form about self and others by looking — not always deeply enough — at your emotions. Emotions are not thoughts. They are physical expressions within your body.

Emotions are physical, and quite worth learning to read. You may have a tight chest. You may have a nervous stomach. You may find yourself sighing. You may stumble on words. Your limbic system is telling your brain that something is up. More often than not, we ignore these physical manifestations and tap into our pre-formed feelings.

Feelings are long term. Feelings are constructed, after all, by a largely unconscious motive that drives our inner narrative. Think of when you see someone who annoys you at work and you are suddenly stifle an inner groan, (physical sensation). Your feeling takes over. You already have a narrative (feeling) about, let’s say, Terry. You just know Terry is going to push all your buttons (physical nervousness), so you leave the break room early.

The same narrative applies if Terry is the love of your life who just doesn’t know it yet. Physical sensations can clue you in to decipher both feelings and emotions.

When you can identify, and claim them, you can feel freedom, control, and a sense of empowerment.

It is popular in culture to think of love as an arrow through the heart. It is something that just hits you. It is wild and unpredictable. It is inscrutable.

The truth is that the arrow is a physical sensation your brain is kind enough to let you feel. Then it is up to you what you do with that information. It is actually quite predictable. It is as tamed as you want it to be. It is not inscrutable, in fact it is quite scrutable, indeed, if you take the time know yourself. If you take the time to know someone else, too, you tap into that person’s vulnerability and trust.

And that is beautiful, because it creates the love that is well-read emotions turned to long term feelings.

In our closer to nature, animal past, we were in better touch with both our emotions and our feelings.

Even now, animals are much easier to read than humans. Human beings are socialized to hide both emotions and feelings. You may have seen your dog act guilty, or your cat act coy.

This is why at the movies the movements, facial expressions and overall behavior of the characters feeds the narrative so well. But in our daily, real life, we hardly have time to notice what the “actors” are displaying.

A smile, which is believed to be evolved from our need to display both our good will and our ability for toothy defense (if need be), is not as trustworthy in a human being. People can smile when they stab you in the back.

In the case of love, they can smile and be so pleasant and engaging that you are sure they share your feelings. We also feed our feelings with our confirmation bias that assures us that Terry — or whoever it may be — is really, really into you.

The reverse can also be true. Terry can be very, very ‘into you,’ but is hiding it because feelings are sending signals to Terry that remaining ambiguous is the safe course.

Valentine’s Day is thus a virtual landmine of deceptive and misunderstood emotions and feelings. It is not just in dating, or course.

People who have been married for fifty years have a certain narrative about how they should feel. They know that a partner can be predictable with the flower bouquet, or the small heart shaped box of chocolates.

One advantageous trick, if you would master emotions and feelings, is to do the unexpected. Make her a gourmet banquet with a week of already prepared meals. Or buy him that autographed, first edition book, he has talked about for years. Go outside your prescribed narrative.

When we go outside our inner narratives, we wow those we love. We can show that our feelings are in touch with the knowledge that maybe the spark needs a bellows, or the romance needs a shove.

Be assured, Cupid is a blind idiot who often needs a bit of help to aim better.

It’s important, if we would create long term feelings of bonding and contentment, that we step outside the expected and nudge those physical sensations — emotions — and regard them with respect.

Much of our sentimental attachment to holidays like Valentine’s Day is manufactured from external sources. We are made to feel guilty, or foolish, if we don’t buy all the cards and candy. We are nudged from the outside.

Shallow sentimental feelings generated from external cues are not reliable. They are often out of touch from our emotions and our feelings. We just go along with what is expected.

Emotions that you can interpret will always be felt in your body, first. Feelings will be found in your long term narrative and self-reinforcing story.

Emotions that you can learn to read will help you know the difference between the temporary, which physical sensations tend to be, and the lasting.

Feelings, to help you distinguish them from emotions, are for the happily ever after. You inscribe them, like your true love’s name, upon your heart.

Written by

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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