David K. Reynolds, Ph.D. writes powerful books that introduce Western readers to Eastern growth methods. What David calls “constructive living” provides awareness about what in life is controllable and what is not.
A sensible individual does not waste time and energy trying to directly control their feelings, because feelings cannot be manipulated by the will. “We can’t make ourselves feel confident or satisfied or grateful or loving or courageous just by concentrating or wishing we were so. Try it. It doesn’t work with any consistency at all,” Reynolds says in “Even in summer the ice doesn’t melt.” (Quill Books)
You can will yourself to go to work, or to spend an evening with someone you don’t like, or walk the dog, even when you do not feel like it. To be mature is to be responsible for your actions, regardless of your feelings.
“People who try to ‘go with their feelings’ all the time run into a lot of trouble,” says Reynolds. “So do people who try to control their feelings. Some people try to extend the notion of responsibility for what they do (behavior) into the realm of emotions of feelings. That approach is a mistake. We can’t control what we feel. We aren’t bad for feeling anything -- sexy feelings, lazy feelings, angry feelings, depressed feelings, confused feelings, any feelings. The best strategy for handling a feeling, any feeling, is to accept it as it is (without trying to fight it directly in any way) and go on about doing what life presents us to do. The feeling in time, will pass and be replaced by some other feeling. No feeling lasts in its intensity forever.”
I often quote a Reynolds line: “Behavior wags the tail of feelings.”
In other words, you can control your behavior, which in time may alter how you feel in a particular life area. If you watch pornography (behavior), you’re going to generate sex-related emotions (feelings). If you avoid helping someone you care about (behavior), you’re going to lower self-esteem (feelings). If your boyfriend left because you demanded he do what you wanted him to do (behavior), you now feel depressed about being alone (feelings).
You can control your behavior no matter how turbulent your emotional life. When you do, your feelings tend to settle down relatively quickly. But when you allow yourself to express wild extremes of behavior in response to extreme feelings, you perpetuate the intense emotions.
So accept your feelings as what is, knowing they will fade over time unless you do something to re-stimulate them. You are not responsible for what you feel, but you are responsible for what you do no matter what you are feeling.