For many of us, the idea of talking about our feelings is daunting. This is especially true when they are overwhelming, confusing, or painful. And in turn, we do a pretty good job of avoiding them. We push them aside and cover them up, convinced that if we can't see them, they don't exist. But let me ask you... how is that working for you?
It may seem like a quick fix, but in the long run, avoiding our feelings is far more detrimental than it is beneficial. As nice as it would be, emotions aren't a light switch that can be turned off and on. If we suppress them, eventually they will find a way to resurface, whether that be in the form of physical symptoms (headaches, stomach pain, high blood pressure, etc.), or through our behaviors (withdrawal, angry outbursts, substance use, etc.). In time, our internal stress builds, leading to greater negative impacts on our mental health, relationships, and perception of self.
Why Emotions Are Our Friends
Emotions are a natural and necessary part of the human experience. I like to think of them as little bits of information offering valuable insights into our thoughts, experiences, and internal states. Emotions can:
Help us understand ourselves better: Our emotions reflect what is important to us, and help us identify our values and beliefs. For example, if you notice the next time you feel happy and content, is it because you are aligning with what you value? In contrast, how does it feel when you shift away from the things that are most important to you? More so, emotions provide insight into our needs; physical, emotional, or psychological. Feeling anxious or stressed? Perhaps this may be an indication that you are in need of support or structure.
Connect us with others: When we understand our own emotions, it becomes easier to understand the emotions of others, helping us form stronger and more meaningful relationships. And not only that, but understanding our emotions can also improve our ability to communicate effectively. By being able to clearly express what we feel, we can reduce misunderstandings and conflict.
Provide motivation: When we stop avoiding and choose to meet our emotions with curiosity and compassion, we tend to gain clarity. This leads to increased self-awareness (helpful in identifying and overcoming obstacles that may hinder our progress), better decision-making, and a stronger sense of control.
Facilitate growth and change: Embracing our emotions leads to emotional intelligence; the ability to identify, understand and manage one's own emotions. What would you do if you knew you could tolerate and navigate emotional discomfort? Would you face fears and take risks? Or pursue passions and goals previously avoided?
How Do We Embrace Them?
While our emotions can serve us in so many aspects of life, I certainly don't want to underestimate just how overwhelming and difficult they can be to manage. Fear not! I have a few tips for you...
Acknowledge and accept your feelings: Notice them, label them, and allow them to be without judgment. This can be easier said than done, especially at the beginning, but when in doubt remember this; there's no such thing as an illogical emotion.
Practice self-compassion: Be gentle with yourself. As spoken by Brene Brown (my absolute idol!), "What we don't need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human."
Find a healthy outlet for your emotions: Journal writing, physical activity/movement, talking with a trusted friend, artistic expression, mindfulness and meditation, being in nature, or volunteer work. Find whatever allows you to express your feelings in a healthy way.
Seek safe support: Emotions can be heavy, but know you never have to carry them alone. A safe and supportive friend, family member, or therapist can offer validation and understanding for your feelings. Some may also provide insights and coping skills, and I think the very best supports are the ones that help you see your strengths.
Embrace your emotions, the good and the ugly: Remember to notice those feel-good feelings (joy, excitement, happiness). These often get bypassed in our attempts to avoid the bad ones. And speaking of those, challenge yourself, a little bit at a time, to sit with uncomfortable feelings. In the end, you may notice that the fear of feeling is far worse than the feeling itself.
Understand the role of suppression: Many of us grew up in a world that didn't hold space for our feelings, and as a result, we learned to stuff them away. In the pursuit of relearning how to better understand and embrace your emotions, it's likely you may fall back into the pattern of avoiding. And that's okay! Give this part of yourself credit, it's what served you at one point in life.
Emotions are our friends, little messengers that provide valuable information. If we can approach them with curiosity and learn to listen, they truly can help guide us toward a happier, more meaningful life.
Emotional Intelligence • Emotional Awareness • Emotions and Relationships • Emotional Regulation • Emotional Self-Awareness • Emotional Health