One of the greatest hurdles we need to overcome in this process of growth and change is our emotions. More accurately, this is the biggest potential obstacle that needs to be put in its rightful place. Emotions aren’t good or bad, even though they may feel good or bad. They are simply communicators. They communicate what is going on beneath the surface. When we learn to manage our emotions, as communicators, we align with a powerful place of awakened choice. Often though, we respond to our emotions in one of two destructive ways.
#1 We give into our emotions as if they had complete power over us.
If I am sad, then I am sad. There is no choice. When I manage my emotions this way, I don’t question the validity of the sadness. I just desperately respond to it by a) making up a story as to why it is there; b) going into coping mode where I do whatever I feel I need to do to comfort the sadness such as isolate, eat, immerse myself into a distraction and/or c) handing off responsibility by blaming others or circumstances.
Side note: responsibility is a tricky word here. There are times when our sadness or anger is a legitimate response to something someone has done to us or a loved one. I don’t use the word responsibility to reflect the cause of the pain, but as the source for healing. Even if someone did something terrible that caused you pain, the responsibility or power to heal is within you, whether that feels fair or not. You can read more about that here.
Giving our emotions too much power and treating them as always true puts us in a disempowered state.
We only feel empowered when we feel good and things are going our way. When we feel bad, it can feel like we are failing, or life is unfair. Being at the mercy of our emotions is like having your inner two-year-old drive the bus that you are on and can’t get off. When this happens, we can feel like we are the mercy of others or our circumstances. This sets us up for a bumpy ride in life.
Letting our emotions run the show can also lead us to be in a reactive place in our lives, where we are either seeking pleasure or avoiding pain when decision making. This may not sound like the worst way to live. But to live the lives we want to live, there will need to be some discomfort in order to grow and change. It can also directly conflict with living an intentional life, as you may believe that you need to ‘feel’ like doing something in order to do it.
#2 The second way people manage their emotions is to shut them down completely.
In this case, emotions aren’t driving the bus. You aren’t even willing to pull over when they are screaming that they need to pee. Ignoring your feelings completely can be equally destructive. When you manage your emotions this way, you deny yourself access to what is going on in your heart and mind. It doesn’t allow you to manage damaging thoughts or beliefs or even realize that boundaries are being crossed.
This mode of responding to emotions can be present for a number of reasons:
- You were never allowed to feel strong emotions or ‘bad’ emotions as a child or taught how to process them.
- Strong emotions feel unsafe.
- You feel you understand the source of your pain, so there is nothing left to explore so why bother.
- You devalue the role of emotions. They are useless, so why listen.
- You were exposed to people who gave too much weight to their emotions and rejected this way of responding to emotions without the skill set of how to process emotions in a healthy way.
- Finally, one of the trickiest sources for shutting down emotions is that you know the person/source didn’t mean to hurt you, so there is no point staying focused on the pain.
The cost of shutting down emotions is that we just bury them only to have them manifest later as physical or psychological ailments or to have them erupt another day. I have worked with a number of individuals who have to relearn how to identify emotions and slowly build the ability to feel again. This can feel incredibly scary and uncertain, but as the skill in emotional processing develops, these individuals get a new lease on life.
You may manage your emotions with a combination of the two approaches.
Many women I work with block anger or shut it down with shame but give themselves over completely to sadness or guilt. I have also seen the reverse of that. A lot of this has to do with our earlier programming in our family of origin. This programming has to do with how emotions were seen, perceived, and often the gender expectations on how to express those emotions.
The good news is that we don’t need to deep dive into our programming to rewire our relationship with emotions and to set it to a more productive setting.
Before we get into the amazing role of emotions in our transformation, let’s look at some myths of what emotions are not.
- They are not ‘out of your control’. Rather, they are the outcome of your iceberg, current environment (both internal and external), and situation.
- They are not ‘bad’. Some obviously feel better than others, but they simply communicate information.
- They will not kill you. I can immerse you in a sea of shame…and you will come out alive. When we get past the fear of feeling the emotions, we are in a much more productive space to explore and process the emotions.
- They will not open up a door that can never be shut. I have heard so many times that if I feel my sadness or rage, I may never put the lid back on it. Once you successfully learn to feel the feelings and process them, you will also learn to trust that you get to a place that feels better.
Exploring Emotions as Communicators
Earlier I referred to emotions as communicators. They give us valuable information about circumstances, relationships, and our environment that may need to be addressed. They also give us important information about our internal environment, such as beliefs, thoughts, and expectations that may need to be challenged, shifted, or reprogrammed in order for us to live the quality of life we want to live.
When we can listen to our emotions and use them as tools to go deeper into our iceberg, we then have a greater freedom to enjoy the journey, as opposed to feeling victim to it. This is a long and amazing journey, my friend. It is time we stopped letting emotions hijack us along the way.