Each year in the month of May, I write an article or even a series of articles related to mental health awareness month. This year, I will try to do the same and would like to start out with a conversation about feelings. The topic of feelings is usually one that evokes a certain level of resistance, as many see any focus on feelings as being soft or vulnerable. This could not be further from the truth, as feelings and our response to our feelings is one of the main drivers of our actions and outcomes. What has been missing in many of the conversations about feelings, is a methodical and objective approach to the subject.
I recently read a book which did a deep dive on the subject of feelings and I would like to share the main premise of the book and how it can assist each and every one of us is managing our feelings rather than our feelings managing us. The title of the book is “Permission to Feel” written by Dr. Marc Brackett, and in the book, he makes use of an acronym to walk through the steps in which we can effectively both understand and incorporate our feelings in a way that brings about growth both personally and in our relationships.
The acronym is RULER, and it goes like this: The first step is to “Recognize” that we are in fact experiencing an emotion, which of course we all are at almost every given moment. This may just be a pause, as we stop and acknowledge the presence of a given emotion. Many times, we may not understand why we are experiencing that specific emotion in that moment. That brings us to “Understand”. This is where conduct a quick self-check as to why this emotion has surfaced. It may be because of a previous experience, or that it is a critical moment in our lives. The key here is to understand why we are feeling what we are feeling. We can then proceed to “Labeling” the emotion we are feeling. This may seem pointless as we have already recognized that we are feeling an emotion, but we must be careful to give that emotion it proper title. You could start this process and say “I’m feeling angry” but after you give it some consideration, you may realize that the emotion is not actually anger, but possibly fear or restlessness. This is important as we then go to the next step which is “Expressing” our emotions to those around us. Many times, those closest to us see our emotions long before we do, and it is important to be able to effectively communicate how we are feeling in a given situation to those around us, so that they can better understand how to respond. This prevents misunderstandings which result in inappropriate responses in our relationships.
The final step and my personal favorite is where we take personal responsibility for our emotions and self “Regulate”. Too often in our society, we expect others to change their response or reactions to suit our needs, or adjust their emotions to appease our current emotional state. This is both unrealistic and unhealthy to expect this from anyone. The fact that I may be experiencing an emotion such as anger, does not give me license to disregard the emotional state of others or try to justify my inappropriate actions. We are all accountable to each other and self-regulation is the key to that accountability.
The fact is, we are all human beings, existing in a constant state of one emotion or another. Our ability, or inability to manage our emotions can have an impact either positive or negative. We spend so much or time having conversations about issues and matters that we have no control over. I think our time would be better spent having conversations about the things can control and our emotions are in fact one of the few things in life we can control and ultimately manage. So, the next time you ask someone, “How are you feeling?” consider turning that into an actual conversation rather than a passing comment.