January 21, 2024

Riding on the Wave of Emotions: The Power of Healthy Expression.

Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go.” ~ Mooji


Each day we are confronted with innumerable emotions, some of which we may welcome while others we may prefer to avoid.

Some bring in joy, some fear, and some anger or stress. The way we handle these emotions is heavily influenced by our early social conditioning.

These emotions have their roots in triggered events from childhood and by how those around us acknowledged or disregarded their own emotions as well as ours. For example, children who were raised by angry parents who couldn’t regulate their emotions become adults haunted by a constant fear that they’re doing something wrong.

The nature of emotions

Emotions are an essential part of our human experience on Earth; they colour our perception of the world around us, influence our decisions, and even shape our relationship with our friends, family, and community.

Like waves in the ocean, emotions can appear to be either gentle and calming or overwhelming and turbulent—beyond our control. They are broadly categorised as positive or negative emotions. As humans, we identify more with positive emotions such as love and joy while negative emotions like anger, fear, and sadness feel distressing and challenging to navigate.

At times, we might find ourselves riding high on the crest of happiness while, at other times, we plunge into the troughs of despair. It is important to know that this ebb and flow of emotions is a natural part of being human and all emotions are good and equally important for our evolution.

Our belief system: The root of all emotions

Our emotions are influenced by the social and environmental contexts in which we live. From a young age, we are exposed to various cultural, social, and familial influences that shape our beliefs and values. These influences include societal norms, our family’s beliefs, religious influences, cultural expectations, and so on. Over time, we internalize these beliefs that become a part of our worldview.

Similarly, I think we live in an anger-phobic society. We’re conditioned to believe that anger is wrong; we’re taught to apologise, to be nice, and to be polite. If we’re not, we might be rebuked. Reinforced throughout our childhood, this becomes our core belief: it’s not okay for me to be angry. This in turn sets our behavioural patterns: staying quiet in order to appear “relaxed,” allowing abusive behaviour to avoid conflict, and having “a good person” conditioning. We focus on anger as the issue rather than looking at a deeper dysfunction.

For example, I grew up conditioned to believe that success is vital as a result of which I experienced anxiety or fear in situations wherein I perceived a risk of failure (this, in fact, is a common worldview that most of us grow up with). The moment we get attached to our emotions that are nothing but unconscious projections or reflection of our beliefs, we open the doors to a mental tornado, which brings in more of those unwanted feelings and emotions.

“Feelings, by themselves, do not create problems. It is rather the tendency to interpret and analyze them. When out of habit you believe those interpretations, it is there that the suffering begins.” ~ Mooji

Suppressing versus repressing emotions

While as a society we’ve internalised not accepting our emotions, either knowingly or unknowingly, there are two ways most of us usually deal with our emotions: suppression and repression. Often used interchangeably, they carry distinct meanings in our emotional well-being.

Suppressing emotions involves a conscious effort to control or hold back our feelings, preventing them from being expressed outwardly. When we suppress emotions, we are usually aware of our feelings and the reasons behind them. While the outward expression is restrained, there is a recognition of the emotion and its cause. Someone feeling anger due to a provocation might suppress the urge to yell or show aggression but is conscious of the reason for their anger. It’s similar to a kingdom ruled by a king who is consciously silencing dissent.

Repression, on the other hand, involves burying an emotion so deep that we may lose awareness of its cause. For example, repressed anger can subtly affect our psyche, resulting in constant irritability without an apparent reason. It’s like living under a super tyrant where past abuses resurface as present hostility, creating a state of inner turmoil, which is sensed but not fully understood.

The dangers of suppressing or repressing emotions

Many of us often find ourselves inclined to conceal our emotions, particularly the ones that are seemingly negative such as anger, frustration, fear, sadness, and disappointment. We might perceive the display of vulnerability or sadness as an indication of fragility or we unconsciously deny exploring these emotions since it doesn’t make us “feel good.”

For the longest time, I suppressed thoughts that brought about emotions such as anxiety or fear by refusing to think about it or by delaying acknowledging them and rationalising, “I’ll think about it later.”

We need to remember that these e-motions are just “energy in motion.” In essence, suppressed or repressed emotions are nothing but the excess energy that we tend to carry―one that hasn’t found a release yet. If we choose to suppress our emotions when they demand expression, there is a risk of inadvertently unloading them onto unsuspecting individuals. Continuously stifling emotions can lead to their burial in the subconscious, resulting in mood swings, unexplained gloom, and potential depression which, to our conscious mind, has no explanation.

When confronted with future challenges, our emotional response becomes intensified. This heightened emotional intensity doesn’t solely stem from the immediate issue at hand but is also fuelled by the reservoir of repressed emotions we unknowingly cling to.

Another outlet for suppressed emotions becomes dreams or nightmares. Attempting to conceal an emotion in waking life may lead to its expression in dreams. Persistent suppression might even manifest as recurring dreams associated with the unresolved emotion. As time progresses, the intensity of bottled up suppressed emotions grows, finding outlets in bursts of anger or aggression, diminished self-esteem, and, in the long run, even dis-ease.

Nonetheless, bottling up emotions can be harmful for us―impacting our mental, social, and physical well-being. It’s similar to attempting to restrain a formidable wave, ultimately causing emotional turmoil and possibly even emotional crises. Suppressing emotions becomes a breeding ground for chronic stress that contributes to the onset or exacerbation of numerous health concerns.

Embracing emotions: Emotional expression isn’t just venting

Our relationship with emotions traces back to our childhood where we might have encountered phrases such as “There’s no reason for you to be sad,” “Don’t be a baby,” “Just calm down,” “You’re so soft, chin up!” or even “You should feel grateful.”

Even if our caregivers didn’t explicitly dismiss our emotional responses, they might have discouraged the open expression of intense feelings by urging us to cease crying or feeling low. On the contrary, all emotions are in fact good, and we need to normalise not thriving. It’s okay to feel low, to self-isolate when we need it, or to have periods of grieving. We aren’t always meant to feel good.

Expressing emotions, however, does not mean letting out emotions, especially ones like anger, without any filter. Venting, akin to adding fuel to a fire, only amplifies aggressive thoughts and emotions, failing to diminish anger and often escalating aggressive reactions. In contrast, emotional release is a process that involves acknowledging and accepting feelings as they come up, even if we choose not to express them immediately. We may think, “Wow, I’m really agitated at this moment. I don’t want to start an argument, though, so I’m going to take a moment to be with myself before trying to explain why I’m so upset.”

While it has many facets and may even seem complex, becoming more comfortable with being with our emotions, rather than avoiding them, can help us find balance rather than allowing the mind to get into a fight-or-flight mode or be dependent on addictions or harmful habits as a distraction.

If we feel sad, we need to acknowledge and express it. There are ways to articulate our emotions—discussing them openly, writing about them, sharing with people who can help us, or letting off steam by giving a punching bag a vigorous workout.

Many of us may not be aware that an alternative approach to managing our emotions exists: feeling the emotions in real time. Like energy waves, emotions exhibit variations, and their inherent nature is to rise and dissipate; the clue is to flow with them instead of attempting to talk ourselves out of them.

Healthy ways to express powerful emotions:

>> Acknowledge the emotion and give ourselves permission to feel it.

>> Write a letter to the person invoking that emotion in us (but don’t send it out).

>> Let out the emotion—especially anger—physically in a conscious way (beat on pillows, scream in a secluded space, or do a physical exercise), but be sure not to prolong this.

Healthy expression helps set boundaries for what is acceptable behaviour from others. If expressing emotions verbally is challenging initially, we can consider writing in a journal or even creative expression through music or painting. Training ourselves to articulate feelings using phrases like “I feel confused. I feel nervous. I feel terrified” without judging them is a good starting point. Irrespective of the emotion we experience, we need to refrain from self-judgment or convincing ourselves that we shouldn’t feel a certain way. Instead, we can seek an understanding of the emotion: “I feel stressed because I’m about to present the annual plan to the CEO.”

Emotions are integral to the human experience, and mastering their ebb and flow is a lifelong pursuit. In case it feels overwhelming to acknowledge difficult emotions, we can start with naming and embracing positive emotions that may be more accessible initially, and that is acceptable. The objective is to become more at ease with all emotions, taking gradual steps. By adopting emotional awareness, regulation, and resilience, we can navigate the accompanying highs and lows that come with emotions. The more we feel and acknowledge, the more we let go and release.


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