“Feel the Feelings, but Do the Right Thing”
Anxiety of changing when you’re moving toward new behavior is normal, expected, that’s why one of the lines I hear myself saying a lot in therapy is “Feel the feeling; do the right thing. Feel the feeling, but do the right thing” because feelings are rooted in history. I had to learn, for example, that for me to be close to someone, my anxiety would come up. This is an important point and I want to just regress a moment. When you long for something it becomes a source of pain. Like growing up, I longed for touching. You know, I have no memory of my father touching me. And I have a good memory. I remember him touching the pets. But no memory of him hugging me or putting me on his lap or stroking my hair or giving me a hug or a kiss on the cheek. No memory of that. When you long for something, your brain associates that activity, touching, with pain. So my brain is wired to experience pain or anxiety around touching. So fast forward into adulthood, where if somebody were to approach me, to hug me, my anxiety would come up because it would say, “You’re going to get hurt,” that touching equals pain. So, here’s what you have to do if you have a history anything like mine. You feel the feeling but you do the right thing. That’s why the value-driven approach is better than the feeling-driven approach. Following your feelings is bad advice much of the time because your feelings are rooted in history. If they’re not moving toward your core values and your goals in life, you can manage that. You can feel the feeling but make a conscious choice. You know, sometimes your feelings are guiding you, but you’re going to make a conscious choice toward your core value of living instead of just feeling the feeling. Because if I would follow my feelings, I would never have enjoyed the pleasure of affection, you know, of touching, of appropriate touching. Now, let me show you how this manifests because I think this is extremely important for those of us who have lived with, you know, neglect or abuse or whatever in our history and then want to be in a primary love relationship. When you long for something and it becomes a source of pain, when it finally shows up in your life, the longing ends, but the grief begins. And so getting what you want can feel very uncomfortable. So you have to manage that anxiety, manage those feelings and stay in the relationship. Feel the feelings, stay in the relationship. Now, you don’t want to stay in an abusive relationship. That’s where you get a consult. You know. In my history, someone who ignored me felt like love. My brain was wired to think, “Oh, that’s love,” you know. So you’ve got to, that’s where, you know, having a board of directors or people that you trust, a trustworthy friend or a confidant or a therapist really, really helps, because they can be objective. Because your feelings are rooted in history and they don’t always get you where you want to go.
You know, when you get something, then you can lose it. And you have that fear. But remember, your strongest feelings, if you let them, should lead you back to your core values, which would be to love again. To savor the moment. To be present in the moment. And, when the anxiety comes up, you have a choice about it. You know, you really have a choice. If you feed it, it’s going to grow. Or if you stay the course and focus your mind, you really can manage this. It’s amazing what short time feelings stay around if you move toward a positive, take your mind and move it in a positive direction. We have so much more control over that than we believe. And it took me years and years to get that. Years and years to get that. I just thought – and of course, I was taught — follow your feelings, which is, you know, not always the best advice.
In this interview clip, Dr. Pat Love explains, through a poignant personal example, why changing habitual behavior is inextricably tied to anxiety, how our feelings are rooted in our history, and how this knowledge can enable you to “feel the feelings, but do the right thing.”
Dr. Pat Love talks about the ability to create a meaningful and rewarding life regardless of external inputs or circumstances:
This is such an important point in any relationship; that you get to decide who you’re going to be, your core values. And now when I work with individuals and couples and families, I look at the core values. What are your core values? Who are you? When you’re dead and gone, how do you want to be remembered? That’s what you need to be accountable to at the end of every day. And couples often say to me – or you say it because of your kid, you say, “Well, why should I be nice to her if she’s not going to be nice to me?” And the answer is, (1) because you feel better about yourself when you do the right thing and (2) don’t let someone else decide what kind of person you’re going to be. Whether it’s your parent or your child or your friend or your partner. You get to decide that. You really are in control of that. You don’t have to be on a yoyo string with somebody else’s emotions or beliefs. You get to decide that. So at the end of every single day, I need to say, “OK, Pat. How was I loving today?” If that’s one of my core values. How was I kind today? How was I supportive today? And you hold onto that. And by the way, this is the answer to a lot of tough questions that come up in love relationships or parental relationships, those tough questions that really go back to your values. And you say what would a kind person do about that? What would a caring person or a man of integrity do about that? That’s all you have to do. Use that as your guiding principle.