Feeding the Emotions

One of the points I’ve made is that feelings just come to us on their own; we can’t control what we feel. And so it is. However, experience shows that while we have no control over a feeling arising, we can, to some extent, influence how long we experience it. So a certain situation occurs in which you do have to take responsibility for having feelings, when you have to take responsibility for which feelings you feed. I call it wallowing.

That's when you wallow in a negative feeling, so as to prolong it; when you enjoy your hatred so much that you intentionally hold onto it; when you take shelter in your jealousy and set up house there; when you cultivate your ability to fly into a rage. Or when you intentionally put yourself in situations that will ignite your violence.

The italicized words in the above paragraph indicate acts of your will by which you have brought on or prolonged the feelings. They may have first come on their own, but they have not grown to such proportions on their own. Your encouraging them becomes a behavior for which you are responsible.

Of course wallowing in positive feelings that everyone enjoys–like eager, satisfied, and enthusiastic–is no problem. It can in fact be helpful to stretch out these feelings, spread them around so to speak. Unfortunately for many of us, we often run from happiness and wallow in anger.

A story from the American Indian tradition gets exactly to the point I’m trying to make:

A grandfather explains to his grandson, who has just gotten into some mischief: “There are two wolves battling inside of you. One is ferocious and destructive and the other is gentle and very powerful.” When the child anxiously asks, “Grandfather, which one of them will win?” he replies, “Whichever one you feed.”

Next: “Life: Feelings Acted Out”

© 2008 David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell


David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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