My Feelings? I Thought they Were Yours.

My feelings

It’s common for people to tell you how they feel about things – relationships, work, politics, brussel sprouts. But it’s actually the other way around – our feelings drive what w
e
 think. For example, brussel sprouts have never actively sought to offend anyone, yet those who have bad feelings towards them (based on input from their senses) might detest them, while others might think they are divine (although I’ve yet to meet anyone who described them to me in that way). Similarly, people with misanthropic tendencies might have negative opinions about relationships, while those who are more open-hearted might have more positive opinions.

It’s amazing how much we let our negative feelings get in the way of our happiness, and yet often fail to see that they are our negative feelings. We have a tendency to project them and convince ourselves that they are coming from other people, when what we are actually experiencing is a reflection of ourselves.

Let’s say you’re in a relationship, and you spend most of the day out of contact with your partner. Since nature abhors a vacuum, you might fill the time by imagining conversations with your partner. You might even forget that you’re not actually speaking with your partner, but with a projection of how you feel about your partner, who is following a script of your design. And you may be one of those people who can create a very realistic facsimile, but it’s still not the real thing. Evening comes and you see your partner. You may be harboring negative feelings based on the conversation you had with your imaginary partner, and decide to rehash them with the real one only to discover that your real partner isn’t following the script. What a liar! That’s not what you said earlier when I was talking to….oh.

Of course, not all examples are as clear as that one. Many times we don’t even notice when we fall victim to our own projections. Often we assume people are judging us when we are actually judging ourselves. That look from the cashier has little to do with your junk food purchases and much to do with her dead-end job. The neighbors are probably thinking, “What would the neighbors think”, which means they are using you to scrutinize themselves, and perhaps vice versa. OK, some of them might be scrutinizing you. Tell them to go look through somebody else’s window for a while. So long as you’re not hurting anybody, what you’re up to is none of their business.

In the book “Awareness”, Anthony de Mello states that there are four steps to happiness:

  1. Become aware of your negative feelings, which is not always as easy as it sounds considering how much time we spend convincing ourselves they are coming from others.
  2. Realize that they are indeed your negative feelings.
  3. DO NOT IDENTIFY WITH THE FEELING (my caps). For example, instead of saying to yourself “I am depressed”, say “it is depressing at the moment”. One of those statements is a reinforcement of a self-concept, the other is a weather report.  
  4. Change your world by changing yourself.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, no, not really. But with consistent repetition it is a practical method of increasing clarity and awareness. You might even turn off the projector and stop judging yourself.

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