Emotion-FULL Living with Dr. Rosellini
People are funny when it comes to talking about emotions. Some thrive on talking about them, some maybe talk too much about them, others rarely open up, some hate them, and for some they might be a completely foreign concept. I am here today to talk about why emotions are important and the power in acknowledging and accepting emotions, even the “bad” ones.
Emotions are real. They are natural. They signal what may be going right or wrong in our lives.
They help us connect with others. They motivate us to act. Bottom line, they are an essential part of the human experience. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t always have the best relationships with our emotions. I mean we all want the positive emotions like love, happiness, joy, and passion. Who wouldn’t?! They are the best.
But the negative ones, holy moly, no way we want those. Feelings like pain, sadness, anxiety, fear, jealousy, hate, anger, and shame come to mind. Ugh! Even reading them off creates associated feelings for me. Those we often shun and avoid at all cost.
When I feel anxious, let’s say before a major presentation, I often think to myself “just stop it!” or “go away,” constantly wanting to get rid of the fear and worry. I even start to berate myself and say “what is wrong with you?” or “you are being ridiculous.” But feelings have utility, and the anxiety is important as it motivates me to present in the first place, and shows that I care.
If I am sad I might think, “just get over it” or “be strong.” Then I feel even worse because trying to control emotions does not make them go away. But the sadness I feel helps show me what is meaningful or lacking in my life. It has a purpose.
I remember one person saying to me they wished emotions were like chemical compounds because then he could break down the negative emotions and destroy them. Without the negative emotions, though, would we truly feel or identify the positive ones?
By numbing or suppressing negative emotions we also numb the positive ones as well.
Negative and positive emotions are two sides of the same coin. I love the movie “Inside Out” because it demonstrates so well the import, double-sided nature of emotions.
Shame is a weird emotion because when I feel shame regarding a situation, I usually avoid it at all costs, leading to expressing it via anger or frustration. Have you ever done anything like that? I think we all do it from time to time. We bottle all the “bad stuff” up and shove it somewhere we hope no one sees. Walking around trying to be “on” and showing that we have it together. While this can be useful at times, it also takes its toll and is ultimately not sustainable.
It has taken me a long time (and I am still learning) how to be okay with having these negative emotions. It is so uncomfortable to have them and truly let yourself experience that shame, or sadness, or whatever it is you are feeling. But if you try to get rid of feelings, or avoid them, not only are you not getting rid of it, you are denying a natural part of yourself and the problem often time gets bigger. Research even points to the real, harmful effects of avoiding and suppressing aversive emotion (e.g. Campbell-Sills et al., 2006; Ben-Naim et al., 2013).
Yet this suppression happens all the time. And why? Because emotions can hurt (and can be annoying)! If we are a child or even an adult, and tell our parent about something exciting or sad that happened, and we are dismissed or ignored, that hurts! And we might think, “ohhh I don’t like that feeling, there is no way I am going to share how I really feel next time.”
Now fast forward several years. This person may have generalized this mentality and now feels uncomfortable being authentic. They may distance themselves from others to protect themselves, but end up not knowing who they are or what they really want. This may be an exaggeration but it captures what might happen when we try to cut ourselves off from emotions, particularly sharing emotional vulnerability.
Another example might relate to social anxiety. Let’s say you are a freshman in college, meeting new people and really trying to fit in and make friends. At lunch, you are hanging up with a group of friends talking about favorite music. You bring up a band you know of, and everyone laughs and says that “they suck.” That might not feel so good, and it might make us a little more anxious in the next social situation. This time, we decide to avoid that emotion by removing ourselves from the group of friends (maybe by saying, “I have homework to do”), being agreeable, or not saying anything (despite having things to say).
While our anxiety might be curbed in the short term through this avoidance tactic, it makes us more anxious in each following situation and makes us more likely to avoid again, despite our hopes to connect with others and fit in.
Now I am not saying we should all just get obscenely angry, anxious, jealous and sad all the time and let our emotions overcome us. Or that we should walk around like an open wound or dwell forever in an emotion.
Being able to acknowledge what emotion is there, allowing it to be there, and embracing it as part of us connects us further with ourselves and leads to a better understanding of what might be going on internally.
Sharing emotional vulnerability with others also connects us with them in a powerful way (read any of Brene Brown for more information! She is a vulnerability guru). Next time you are sad or anxious, and you want to avoid that feeling, my challenge to you would be to:
Acknowledge what feeling is coming up.
Write it down or talk about it with someone.
Accept that it is there.
You are only human, and it is okay to have a sad feeling. You are not crazy. Find out what it is telling you. It is interesting to learn that once we are able to let ourselves experience just a little bit of that feeling we are scared of, we often feel relieved to have opened up to it.
I don’t want to ignore the good feelings either. It is okay to be happy and have a lot of good feelings! You deserve them. However, the common advice of “just be happy” goes too far and might not be useful.
Emotions naturally come and go. Forcing it does not usually work. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes not. That is normal. I like the idea of the weather as a metaphor for emotions (Read Pema Chodron for more on this >>). Sometimes it is rainy, sometimes sunny, sometimes there are thunderstorms! So whatever you feel, allow yourself to accept it. Only you have the power to do that. And you will feel a lot more authentic and like yourself if you take that risk.
How do you think you will incorporate emotion-full living into your life today? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I'd love to hear from you!
Barrymore Rosellini, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist
“The master observes the world but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. His heart is open as the sky.”
— LAO TZU, TAO TE CHING (STEPHEN MITCHELL TRANSLATION)