Checking-Up on Unexpected Feelings

by David Kavich

It happens to me, too; probably to everyone – I'm all depressed and I'm not sure why. Or I just hit the roof and, looking back, the thing I reacted to really seems trivial. Often, I just say, "Oh, well…" and go on.

Emotions are complicated things and, though some of us tend to be overly preoccupied with them, a little attention to these "head-scratcher" incidents can help us to gradually gain insight into ourselves.

Emotional responses apparently have to do with everything about us: our experiences, personality, physical condition at the time – even the way we feel our muscles moving into a facial expression, according to one theory. When we are not sure why we have the feelings we do, though, one way to understand where our feelings are coming from is to go over a list of things that we don't usually want to think about, work on, or have "real" feelings about.

Try exploring the following categories when you're asking yourself, "Why do I feel this way?":

  • Current issues I've been avoiding;
  • Past issues I've tried to avoid;
  • People who affect me (though I don't want to admit that they do);
  • My self-image, recently or in relationship to this incident; or
  • How I thought someone was viewing me or treating me.

Perform Your Own Spheres-of-Life Check

A spheres-of-life check is a simple method for checking yourself out and developing insight. Simply come up with your own idea of what the spheres are and write them down somewhere until you have them memorized.

One example of a simple sphere model is "physical, mental, social, and spiritual." Or maybe "work, home, social, and personal." If you don't end up coming up with many answers after several sphere-checks, you might need to revise the spheres you're checking, or at least their names. Be creative. I could come up with a useful new set of spheres for myself right now: how about, "music, recovery, business, and having fun"?

Wrestling with Negative Feelings

Say I was experiencing some negative feelings right now (in fact, the only feeling I am aware of as I write is excitement – I love to write!) and did not know their source. If I used the spheres model I just developed for myself, I imagine my results would look something like this:

  • Music: I haven't wanted to work on writing lately because I've had a cold and I'm feeling awfully tired. I'll bet I'm frustrated because I haven't been making any progress on the concert pieces I'm working on.

  • Recovery: I wish I was focusing on my daily journal more than I have been (like in "Music" above). And I wish I had gotten that new book I wanted to start reading on a daily basis.

  • Business: I've been working pretty hard; why am I not rich yet? (Just kidding!) I'm not choosing to be very patient about progress at the office. Why not? I know I won't reach my goals overnight. I think maybe I have been harboring hopes that something magical will come along to speed things up. How come I am still not satisfied about the good fortune I had a few months ago?

  • Having Fun: I'm just not sure I'm having much fun these days. Of course, there's this cold I've had for two weeks; I haven't felt much like doing anything. Why couldn't I grab someone tonight and go have an adventure? Hey, it's Friday! That might just fly.

This method works so well that I just gained considerable insight into myself even though I was not really pursuing any feelings! When we are having feelings that are significant to us at the time, it is an opportunity to really get to know ourselves. Through a spheres-of-life check, I can actually develop a more intimate relationship with me.

The Next Step

So, what do I do with these insights I gain from checking myself out? Well, I guess that's up to me. Who do I want to be? What do I want for myself, or even for the important others in my life, that relates to what I have learned about myself?

If you perform a spheres-of-life check, the important thing is that you choose to act on your new insights. None of us will act on them all the time, and no one should obsess about self-improvement. But paying attention and being responsive to and responsible for yourself is an important part of making sure that you are growing, becoming, and living.

Using my example sphere-check above, I just decided to give myself a break about my music goals; my cold is starting to get better and maybe I'll get some things done about that on Sunday (my day to pay special attention to music). I'm going to hang loose about the recovery book I've wanted to get. I can download it when I find it convenient to do so. About business: well I finished this article, and that will help me recognize that I am doing all I can, and, more importantly, what I enjoy about my practice. That will feel good, and improve my cultivated patience about progress in this arena.

Oh, yeah, and the fun issue? Where's the off-button for this computer?

Date published: 4/18/01
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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