It is characteristic of human nature that we can face the great crisis-moments of life with honour and dignity, but allow the routine demands of everyday to irritate and annoy us. We can face the shattering blows of life with a certain heroism, but allow the petty pinpricks to upset us. Many a man can face a great disaster or a great loss with calm serenity and yet loses his temper if a meal is badly cooked or a train late.

William Barclay

When we express our feelings, we reveal our strengths, vulnerabilities, and what is important to us. Our emotions give meaning to our thoughts and influence how we behave. Because our feelings powerfully influence what we think and do, we should remember that our emotions do not always tell us the truth. They can cause us to misinterpret—for better or worse—the actions and intentions of others and overreact to situations that are outside of our control.

Feelings are Saying Something

Our feelings are something we should be conscious of and manage. Emotions should not lead us like we’re a dog on a leash. From a scientific perspective, our feelings evolved as a way to help us interpret the world around us: good feelings encourage us to keep doing what we’re doing and bad feelings tell us that something is off. Yet, our feelings cannot be entirely trusted.

There are times to feed emotions with gusto and others when they need to be held in check. If you’re happy for good reasons, embrace it. Enjoy the moment. We all know too well that life can be hard. Don’t spoil good times by thinking about how they won’t last forever. If you’re feeling happy while in a dangerous or unhealthy situation, your feelings can’t be trusted. For example, bad relationships and drugs may make us feel good for brief moments but they cause serious damage over time. Our feelings are designed to be only one part of our body’s navigation system.

Thoughts and Feelings Work Together

How we feel about the world is influenced by how we think about it. Emotions unfiltered by wisdom lead to overreactions and poor choices. If not steadied by reason, emotions cause us to prioritize short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term satisfaction. It is a desire for instant gratification, for example, that can persuade us to indulge on sweets and avoid exercise instead of eating healthy and staying active. Feelings do the most good when they work with a reasonable and sound mind. 

Feeling Secure in a Relationship

All of us feel the need to connect with others in meaningful ways. From the moment we are born, our innate desire to feel secure causes us to cry out for the attention and care of our parents. Ideally, as we grow older, we will learn how to self soothe during times of emotional distress while also having access to supportive relationships with family and friends.

Healthy relationships are “characterized by mutual emotional accessibility and responsiveness” (Johnson, 2008, p. 112). This means that healthy couples express their emotions while keeping them under control, allowing them to process information and understand—not necessarily agree with—one another’s perspective. In healthy relationships, partners are able to listen and tactfully respond to one another, preventing conversations or arguments from devolving into harsh conflict. They are able to do this because they have learned their partner is dependable and trustworthy and believe themselves to be worthy of being loved (Johnson, 2008).

Feeling Confident

To feel confident, we need to have a secure sense of self-worth. Self-worth is stable when it is fed by the belief that all humans have value. This allows us to know and feel we are valuable even if others say we are not. Self-worth is also more secure when we base success on effort not outcome. This pushes us to work hard and helps us to feel secure and confident even when we don’t achieve what he had hoped to accomplish.

Accessing Emotions and Responding to Feelings

We are in a healthy place when our thoughts and feelings work well together to guide us through life. In hard times we need to be honest about our emotions. Denying we are feeling bad doesn’t make the emotion go away and, as is often the case with anxiety, it can even make it more powerful. When we are happy, we should think about what got us there and consider what is likely to happen as we take our next steps. Once we become skilled at reflecting on and accessing our emotions, we will find that we have more confidence and a greater ability to endure tough situations.