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What to Do When You Have Conflicting Feelings

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistAugust 8, 2018

You’re not sure whether you really feel sad about your friend moving, or excited by the prospect of visiting her at her new home in Hawaii. You know your sister is critical of you, but you believe she’s a kind person. Or maybe you can’t decide what you want romantically — as someone on the WebMD Relationships Message Board recently shared, some moments she feels totally in love with a new guy, but other times she feels drawn to reconnect with her previous partner. Though it can feel maddening, people often have thoughts and emotions that are a conflicted jumble.

When you believe that you need to pick which of your thoughts or emotions is your true experience, you have set yourself up for an exercise in frustration. It’s a lot like looking at a picture of a tree and having to pick what one color you are seeing. You might pick one color – say, green – when looking at the leaves, and then change your answer to brown when looking at the bark; only to change your answer again as you focus on the blackness of a knot in trunk. The truth is that your thoughts and feelings are equally rich experiences.

Unlike the uncomfortable exercise of deciding which one color a tree is, believing that you need to decide which thought or feeling is “true” can be extremely distressing. It can leave you unsure of yourself. The person who posted on WebMD’s Relationships Message Board clearly felt attracted to her new love interest, but also had unresolved feelings toward her old boyfriend that were interfering with the new relationship. This left her feeling “lost.”

Rather than trying to choose which feeling you are having or what thought you believe, choose to embrace the whole of your experience. Focus on clarifying your conflicting thoughts and allowing for your differing feelings. So, if your friend has moved, you might observe that you feel sad and excited rather then asking yourself, “Do I feel sad or excited?” Similarly with your thinking, you might note that you won’t have someone to spontaneously get together with and also that you will have the opportunity to nurture other friendships.

You might talk your thoughts and feelings through with a supportive friend, a therapist, or even on an online platform like the WebMD Relationships Message Board. Once you are clear about your differing thoughts and feelings and can accept them, you might find that you feel less lost – even if you are still unsure what you want to do.

If you have a history of a particular kind of inner conflict, then you might think about what themes you carry from the past. Rather than just focus on your current dilemma, think more about the theme. For instance, it could be that the woman who could not stop thinking about her last boyfriend tended to do this when she started feeling vulnerable in a new relationship. In this case, she might benefit from focusing more on her struggle with vulnerability rather than pursuing the old boyfriend.

By taking the time to become more aware of your inner conflicts and accept them, you are likely to be able to reflect on them more clearly. You are then more likely to make a wise decision – one that will help you move forward in a positive way, even as you continue to feel conflicted.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a well-respected psychologist, who is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of the book Insecure in Love.

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