I like to think of my emotions like I do my 13-year-old niece. There is no way I will be giving her the keys to my car, but sometimes I trust she knows what is going on more than some of the adults at the table. Like most kids are before they get shut down, my niece is brave when it comes to feeling all of her feelings and I want her to know she always has a seat at the table to share them. She gets to be heard, seen, and comforted. I won’t try to rationalize her feelings away or fix her. And when she receives this kind of love and understanding, she is usually ready to move on and play again! The pain has been heard and felt, and she can rip the bandaid off and run at full speed again. So what would it be like if we actually treated our emotions like this?
Our emotions are indicators or signals to something else. They let us know something is needing our attention. Whether it’s hurt or excitement, our emotions are asking to be acknowledged. Just think about the latest emotion you felt, where did it lead you? It probably fell into one of these categories: helping you make a decision, helping you respond to your environment and take action, helping you survive or avoid danger, or helping you understand others and be better understood by them. They truly are incredible indicators of all kinds of things, but for now, let’s talk about the negative ones. We can only ignore our emotions for so long before they explode, leaving us more devastated than if we had just given them the attention they deserved in the moment.
If you grew up in a home like mine, you may not have been allowed to feel negative emotions. Anger made me “bad” and got me into trouble. Sadness was seen as something to fix, not to comfort. Pain was met with a lack of understanding and a positive outlook. These were avoided by my parents because they were uncomfortable emotions. My parents did not know how to be with these emotions in their kids, but mostly because they did not know how to be with these emotions in themselves. I don’t blame my parents for this, I have just chosen to search out a better way to handle feelings. The truth is, despite what you’ve been told, there are no bad emotions. It’s how we choose to engage with them that matter most. When you haven’t been taught how to engage with your emotions, the path of least resistance will tell you to stuff them and move on. It takes time, energy, and practice to feel all of your feelings. But I promise, when you actually feel them, they eventually lift.
When we choose not to feel our emotions or when we are not aware of what we are feeling, they get trapped in our bodies. Trapped emotions occur when they were not released at the time they happened. Your body doesn’t just move on, but actually stores these feelings until they are intentionally released. How crazy is that? Your body is keeping score of the negative energy you have avoided feeling. This emotional record that is logged isn’t meant to punish you or teach you a lesson, it is simply there to serve you. Emotions want to inform you of something and like the oven timer, they are going to continuously beep and annoy you until you choose to stop what you’re doing and intentionally tend to them. Negative emotions that get held onto can cause resentment, bitterness, physical pain, unforgiveness and so many other things. This is why you must listen to them.
Most negative emotions are actually pointing to something deeper. Anger points to hurt or disappointment; sadness can point to loneliness, a sense of not belonging; fear can point to feeling insecure or unsupported. I could go on and on about why emotions are necessary, but I will say they are not always convenient. No one likes to find out that they feel alone, afraid or even disappointed, especially when the emotion is connected to someone you love. But emotions are telling us important information and although we don’t let them drive the car, we can’t stuff them in the trunk either. When they show up, we have to take the time to understand what we are feeling and why.
So today, when you feel an emotion rise up, whether positive or negative, stop. Attempt to feel it fully, identify the root emotion and ask yourself what is going on inside of you — what is this attempting to inform you of? The more you give in to this practice, the more you become a bold and self-aware genius. You learn to take care of yourself and others well when you acknowledge and tend to emotions.
Perhaps you’ve been told it is better and more heroic to suck it up and move on, but I believe, it is brave to feel all of your feelings and to let others feel theirs as well.