Everyone feels a certain way about emotions. Some people fully subscribe to them and describe themselves as being emotional beings. Others may go to the opposite side of the spectrum and believe they’re just “not emotional.” We usually tend to think of emotions as being good or bad, positive emotions and negative ones. We know we like to feel “happy” and “joyful,” which we usually classify as positive emotions, while we don’t usually like feeling “anxious” or “angry,” which we label as negative emotions.
Before we proceed, I want to invite the idea that emotions are neither “good” nor “bad.” There are no positive or negative emotions. Emotions just … are. Some may feel light while others may feel difficult, but labeling emotions as good or bad, positive or negative doesn’t serve our health and I’m about to tell you why.
Even though we are all familiar with emotions. They are usually a topic that is not easily discussed (especially in the context of our work lives). Maybe you noticed your shoulders tense up a bit as you began to read this blog and think about your own experience with emotions. Maybe you rolled your eyes or noticed your breathing change. All of these are common responses.
Emotions are “energy in motion.” They are subtle changes to the vibrational frequency of the energy our bodies feel. Often, we find, though changes in vibrational frequency from emotion to another may be subtle, making the change can be incremental and take time. The time can be especially extended when we are consciously or subconsciously working to suppress our emotions, but more on this later.
Many people may not know how to deal with certain emotions when they come up and bypass them altogether, which is a conditioned response and something we likely learned in our childhood. This could have come as a direct and explicit lesson, such as “boys don’t cry” and “act like a lady.” These lessons can also be internalized as implicit understandings such as when I feel angry, my parents don’t want to deal with me, which creates a connection between the emotion of anger and toxic shame also labeling that emotion as “bad” or “negative.”
Have you ever noticed yourself begin to feel a certain emotion you didn’t want to feel in any given moment? What did you end up doing? Did you take action to be with and feel that emotion so it can be released? Did you validate your emotion and allow the energy to move through you? Or did you try to suppress it, likely internally criticizing yourself for the way you were feeling? Did you maybe even feel ashamed, guilty or anxious for feeling that particular emotion? Did you try to distract yourself with something so you didn’t have to feel that emotion right then?
I want to invite us to begin paying attention. Cultivating any change must always begin with awareness first. I love this quote by an American writer James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Still with me? Now, let’s explore further.
According to Diana Fosha, PhD and the Accelerated Dynamic Experiential Psychotherapy (AEDP) she founded, there are seven core emotions. They are joy, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, excitement and sexual excitement. These emotions are powerful, and they are something our brain cannot outthink. The only way to process and release these emotions is to allow ourselves to be with them and feel them fully through our bodies. When any of these emotions are repressed, especially repeatedly over time, it blocks us from being fully present in our lives, connected to ourselves, our loved ones and to the world around us, keeps us small and focused on surviving rather than thriving. Emotional repression takes an enormous amount of our energy, whether we know it or not. Interesting thing about emotional repression over an extended period is that this specific thing is a major contributor, if not the most key factor, in Depression. Notice that the root of the verbs suppress, repress and depression is “press.” It is the “pressing down” of emotions over time that causes the big ominous D-word.
Digging in a little deeper, when any of the core emotions are not easily felt and processed through our bodies, they are usually blocked by one or multiple inhibitory emotions. They are anxiety, shame and guilt. Remember the example I gave earlier of an implicit lesson a child may learn when they are made to feel bad about experiencing and/or expressing one or more of their core emotions? That’s where guilt, shame and anxiety rush in to remind us of what we learned in childhood. Yes, it’s still showing up in our bodies in the same parallel way as it did when we were children. When I feel angry, nobody wants to be around me; therefore, I must not allow myself to feel anger so as not to be shunned by the people in my life. … I feel guilty for feeling this way. … There must be something wrong with me when I feel that way. These are all examples of possible thought patterns that inhibitory emotions cause, whether we are conscious of them or not.
Of course, inhibitory emotions are quite unpleasant to feel, so to avoid feeling them, we resort to defenses, which are any thoughts, words, actions or behaviors that deflect and block us from having to feel the inhibitory or core emotions underneath them. Can you think of a few examples from your own experience right now? What do you usually resort to doing, saying or thinking to avoid feeling emotions you don’t want to feel? Unsurprisingly, many of these defenses are obviously harmful to us, like numbing our mind and body with altering substances, like drugs and alcohol, or behaviors that give us just enough of an instant dopamine hit to pacify our brain and body, like porn or binge-watching Netflix, so we don’t have to be with the difficult emotions. These also keep moving us further away from true connection to ourselves and the people around us. Yet, some behaviors may appear as if they are good habits at first glance, like exercise or putting in extra effort at work, but when these “good habits” are made to be the go-to as an escape from feeling difficult emotions, they also become defenses and contribute to that emotional “pressing down” that I mentioned above.
So, what are the benefits of being able to give ourselves time and space to be with our difficult emotions and allow ourselves to validate and fully feel them in our bodies? The benefits of allowing them to move through us are allowing them to deliver their message so they can be released as well as healing the younger parts of us that learned to push these emotions down. When we can be with and honor difficult emotions, we can access our authentic self through the open-hearted state, in which we can live a life that is more calm, curious, confident, connected, compassionate, courageous and clear.
To learn more about the power of emotions and achieve better balance, focus and results in your professional and personal lives, reach out to email@example.com for information about our webinars, workshops, and coaching programs on this topic.