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How to "turn off" feelings for others.

answered 05:03 PM EST, Wed November 16, 2011
dgeer dgeer Bushnell
Is there a way to "turn off" emotion in order of preventing oneself from getting attached to people?

Art Matthews Says...

In formulating an answer to your question, I've had to make some assumptions about what may be prompting you to ask such a question. I've heard this question before from people who are experiencing an unrequited love or are involved in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. If I am off-target in this case, I apologize.

Cognitive Therapy suggests that there IS a way to change our feelings by changing our thoughts about who we are and what we have. While Cognitive Therapy is extremely simple in theory, it is not an easy process to engage in alone or even with a therapist as we tend to use automatic thinking that is based on emotional reasoning or a flawed perception of ourselves and/or the world around us.

"Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation (we are responding to) does not change." http://www.nacbt.org/whatiscbt.htm

To begin to change the way you feel about someone else, you need to develop awareness of what you think about yourself, what you think about them and what you think about having or not having them in your life. When we develop unhealthy attachments to people in our lives, it is often because we value ourselves from an overly negative perspective and them from an overly positive perspective. We may value not having them in our lives as a catastrophe and having them in our lives as creating absolute perfection.

There are several errors in thinking here. Holding overly negative valuations of ourselves leaves us feeling odd, alone, unworthy and worthless. How do we hold on to a relationship in a healthy way if we think we have little value to offer the other person? Holding overly positive valuations of others leaves us feeling fearful of losing someone so wonderful and spurs us to think and behave in jealous and controlling ways. Or we may even act out in an effort to push them away so that we can control the "inevitable": getting dumped. Our doting attention may be seen as instrusive and cause the other to want to pull away. Or we may feel that we never measure up to the other person's standards and we become angry with them and hurt by how we think they perceive us.

Believing a relationship with someone completes our lives and that we will live happily, ever after makes the relationship something too valuable to lose and puts too much pressure on the relationship and us. We can then engage in clinging behaviors that put us in a bad light from the standpoint of appearing to be mature, independent adults.

In order to change, we must begin to see ourselves and others as complete people who have both good and bad characteristics. We need to see ourselves as having value and being capable of carrying on even if the relationship does not work out; not that we won't grieve if it doesn't, but we needn't cease to function if it fails. We must learn to value ourselves realistically nd understand our strength to survive and move past a bad relationship or one that just wasn't going to work.

The "how" of this sort of shift is harder than I may be making it sound. We have to challenge ourselves on some core beliefs that we may have held about ourselves for a very long time. We will be asking ourselves to go against what we have believed and create a new habit of thinking from a more positive and balanced perspective. Like any new habit, it takes time, awareness, intention, repetition and a non-judgmental attitude towards your efforts until we get there. We just can't stop thinking negatively, we have to substitute realistic, rational, reasonable and beneficial thoughts about ourselves to fill the mental void. Otherwise our thoughts will revert back to negativity and we then feel like a failure for having thought the negative thoughts again.

You may believe that what you need is the love, admiration and respect of another person, but what you really need is love, admiration and respect for youself. By learning to change the beliefs you hold about yourself and others, you will change the feelings you have -- not turn them off, but turn them down to a managable level. Then it will be possible to create and maintain healthy attachments with people who deserve your love and will be capable of loving you back. If they don't, you'll have the intestinal fortitude to walk away without losing your dignity and self-respect.

Consider talking with a professional who can provide you with a reality check, a reflection of yourself from a more balanced and realistic perspective. Avoid getting too caught up in a new relationship until you have a better handle on who you are and what you are truly capable of as a person. Right now the thing you might seek the most could be the most dangerous thing to possess.

Begin today by loving yourself enough to accept that you could need help and reach out for it.

It can and does get better.

by Art Matthews, MA LPC

Independent Professional Counselor

AZ Body-Mind Counseling

Mesa, Arizona (USA)


@AZBodyMind on Twitter


"Time heals all wounds." ~ American Proverb

"Time heals all wounds, unless you pick at them." ~ American Humor

"Time wounds all heels." ~ American Sarcasm based on Karma.

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Page last updated Nov 16, 2011

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