A friend of mine recently found themself in a situation where they had strong feelings for another person. That person also had strong feelings for my friend. But the situation was such that acting on those feelings wasn’t an option. No, it wasn’t because one of them was married or had a partner. It was just the way life is sometimes. Things get in the way of us doing what we’d like to do.
My friend was justifiably frustrated. They wanted to be able to act on those strong emotions. When we discussed why that wasn’t really possible, their reaction was to say, “I shouldn’t have to deny my feelings.” Actually I agree with that statement completely…just not in the way they meant it.
My friend felt that if they didn’t act on their emotions by pursing a relationship, that the only other option was to deny their feelings. But that isn’t actually true. I’ve written before that emotions don’t require action. They don’t have to be followed by a verb. Emotions exist simply to be felt. They may guide our actions but they don’t mandate it. We have a logical brain for a reason and that reason is that sometimes our emotions need to be overridden. But again, that doesn’t mean be denied or suppressed.
We choose to not act on emotions all of the time. Whether it is not pursuing an attraction because we or the other person is in a relationship or if we decide to not punch our boss when they frustrate us at work. We choose to not rob a bank despite our desire to have enough money to travel the world or own a huge mansion. But not many of us deny that we have feelings like that. We don’t say, “I have to suppress my desire to be financially well off.” We just say, “I have a desire for wealth but I choose to not rob a bank to address that desire. I’ll try investing instead.”
So what should my friend do? They shouldn’t deny their emotions. They should feel them and acknowledge them. They can even have emotions about the unfairness of the situation. They should practice just having emotions. When we learn that we can just sit in emotions without the need to either suppress them or act on then emotions become much less daunting. We don’t have to fear them. We can simply let them express how we feel and be aware. And we learn that emotions change. They ebb and flow, some emotions rising higher at one point and lower at another. We learn to recognize that there are multiple emotions happening at the same time.
And when we do those things we also learn that we don’t have to act AND we don’t have to deny. We can just have emotions. And we can learn to choose which emotions we want to inform the choices we do make. When we do that thoughtfully we avoid doing things that we later regret because they were done “in the heat of the moment.”
So don’t believe that not acting on an emotion has to mean denying it. At the same time recognize that you can have an emotion without that emotion dictating your action. So try that next time…have your emotions without acting. Just feel them and acknowledge them. I think you’ll find they can be your friend.