One of the most natural, and yet often one of the most challenging, parts of being human is experiencing emotions.
But plenty of us would probably much rather not have to deal with them at all than to start delving into their discomfort.
The thing is, emotions themselves are not the problem. Not even anxiety, sadness, guilt, or shame. Nah—it’s your relationship to your emotions that’s the problem.
Emotions are simply energy in motion. They come in many forms and intensities. Some frustrate us, some delight us. We might be tempted to class them as positive or negative, but the truth is, they’re neither. They just…are.
I found emotions to be a monumental pain in my ass for years. I hated crying as a child, wanting to be seen as a “big brave soldier.” I didn’t know what to do with anger, erupting into tantrums and becoming more self-destructive as I grew older. Anxiety overwhelmed me with panic attacks, overthinking, and having a constant knot in my stomach telling me I “can’t” do just about anything right. I realised, too, that even joy could scare me, because surely it’s going to be taken away and I can’t trust it.
My relationship with my emotions was founded on misunderstanding, judgement, and discomfort. Not an ideal way to relate to anything really. So naturally enough, I did whatever I could do to suppress, numb, or escape them, even if that meant engaging in self-destructive behaviours, creating more issues, and ultimately disrespecting myself.
Something, of course, had to change. Because, like it or not, emotions are part of the human experience. And truth be told, without them, it’d actually be quite boring. I knew I couldn’t keep trying to stop or avoid them so I had to learn how to deal with them.
What I realised was, we wouldn’t be experiencing emotions if we weren’t equipped to. We are emotional beings.
Why would we have these surges of feeling that we couldn’t possibly deal with?
Why would we respond or react in these ways if not for some kind of reason?
We have everything we need within us to deal with our emotions, however overwhelming they may feel.
A great place to start is to change how we relate to them and grow our understanding of them. The more understanding we have, the easier it is to have compassion. Compassionate curiosity creates conscious choice.
Some of the most powerful introspection I did to start owning and embracing my emotions was exploring:
1. What are the stories?
What are you telling yourself about your emotions? Do you think that sadness is bad and happiness is good? Do you feel like you should come across a certain way? What rules and stories do you have around emotions? Which ones feel shameful or uncomfortable and where does that feeling come from?
2. What could their purpose be?
Tune in to the emotions that you find most challenging (or annoying) and ask—what could their function be? If they were messengers, what would they be trying to tell you? What can you learn from them? What are they signalling to you about life/yourself/others?
3. Can you listen to them?
This one’s a little more practical. Can you allow yourself to be with them and try to understand them more? Instead of unconsciously reacting, can you create space between stimulus and response and give yourself the power of making a conscious choice? Practice. Breathe. Listen.
4. Can you allow them to be there?
Again, this one is about action, but it’s also about answering this question and making the decision. Next time you notice an emotion arise that you’d usually try to numb, suppress, or run from, ask yourself if you are willing to feel it and heal it. Remember: what you resist persists. So with emotions, the only way out is through, and realistically, that’s all they want too. They just want to be felt and allowed fully without judgment and with compassion.
5. What could help to express them resourcefully?
If being with them feels impossible, that’s okay. Meet yourself where you’re at. How else could you express them? How can you allow them to be felt and channelled into something resourceful? This could be movement, breath work, creativity, talking it out, singing, punching a punch bag, screaming into a pillow, writing poetry. Come up with some options of how you can express your emotions in a way that doesn’t require self-destruction or any holding back.
After years of feeling out of control with emotions and believing I would rather eradicate than embrace them, I am now at peace with the beauty and power of our emotional capacity. It’s been such a gift in reconnecting to and deepening my understanding of myself. It’s also incredibly empowering to know that whatever arises within me, I can handle.
Which leaves very little left to fear.