Emotions are not a bad thing. Yeah, I know, I am a therapist so I am obviously like “hooray feelings!” all day every day. I believe this statement to be true, though. Emotions are in our lives because they are a part of the human experience and they are part of why we are surviving and thriving each day. I sit with people every day who say “I just don’t want to feel this way anymore.” I get it, I really do. I may not believe that emotions are bad but I can absolutely recognize that they are painful and unpleasant.
What I think is important to recognize is that sometimes the most painful part of emotions is the intensity at which we feel them. A twinge of anger is a lot more tolerable than an explosion of it and we can usually work through the less intense emotions a lot more easily than the more intense ones. That is why, when I am working with clients, I encourage them to start by doing the things that decrease the intensity rather than eliminate the emotion altogether. While we are working on that, I try to share what the function of each emotion really is. Anger? Creates change (the reason that I have the right to vote is because a bunch of women got really angry that they did not have a say and made the change), Anxiety? Keeps me safe. I feel it when I am in a situation that I am unsure about. Sadness? That is the only way we grow! Guilt? When it is appropriate guilt, it is because we have done something that violates our own morals and boundaries and need to change our behavior. Shame? We have stepped outside of social norms and not contained in some way (although there will definitely be a later post about toxic shame so stay tuned!). The goal is to notice that even though these emotions are uncomfortable, they are a culmination of our body and our brain telling us something about our own humanity and they are ESSENTIAL for survival.
So, a challenge for you. Listen to yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts, your body sensations and your behaviors. When you know you are in the middle of an emotional moment-what are you feeling? Why are you feeling it? And, what can it do for you? Don’t work to eliminate emotions, work to recognize what message you are trying to send to you.