“Suck it up! Why are you so emotional?” “I can’t talk to you when you’re so emotional” Do this sound familiar? We are often being told to push aside our strong emotions because these emotions are not helpful and there are distractions and destructive to reach our goals.
In my past relationships, whenever my ex-partner and I got into arguments; the very heated ones, I would be the one tearing up and I would always get response like “you’re playing the emotional card to get your way, that’s unfair”. This statement had a very profound impact on me. I felt like an evil villain while at the same time feeling the jab of rejection that I was not allowed to express myself.
When I was working (nothing to do with mental health, by the way), there were many occasions where my colleagues would disapprove of others who were more emotionally expressive. Like this one time, a colleague was battling depression and needed some time off. Instead of support, he got eye rolls and comments like, “What’s he got to be so sad about?”, “I had it worse than him, what has he got to be depressed about?” Talk about kicking someone when they're down!
These reactions from others are so common in our society that any form of strong intense emotional expression is a no-no. Strong emotions are getting a very bad rap, don’t you think?
So, I grew up not liking my own “bad” feelings like anger, fear, and worry. Nobody likes it, no one around me likes it. How can I like it?
Looking back, I can appreciate the process I have been through and the impact on how I do life now. There were no subjects in school to teach emotions nor they were taught or modelled by my parents in a way I can understand the meaning of my emotions in relation to what had happened to me and ways to understand and work with them. How I wish that emotions were taught in schools and that when the children grow up, they will have the knowledge and awareness to nurture themselves and in turn their own children too.
But then, as life would have it, I stumbled into psychology and counseling, and that's when my perspective shifted. I began to understand that emotions aren't some sort of enemy; they're actually more like our personal little messengers
I would like to share 5 of my learnings in simple words hopefully others can also learn about their emotions and have the aha! moment I had. Here's what I've learned about emotions and why they matter:
No. 1, there are no good or bad emotions. There are signals to help us deal with difficult situations or relationships
I’m always very angst when I can’t get my message across to others. I learnt that my anger has a charging power for change. E.g. I get angry when I am deprived of quality time with my partner, my anger is telling me I need to fight for comfort and connection (signal).
Emotions aren't inherently good or bad. They're indicators, guiding us through life’s complexities.
No. 2, emotion is the starting point of how we understand and make decisions to situations, memories, and people that impacted us. It is a reaction towards things that happened to us.
Emotions lay the groundwork for how we perceive the world, make decisions, and interact with others. When people say we overreact, this is the time to be very curious of what is happening to us. Be the investigator. Sometimes, we flared up with the slightest provocation. This can never make us feel good. Just like an ache in the body, we need to find out where that ache came from and find ways to relief it. If we can't do it ourselves, we need to engage a professional to help us.
No. 3, emotions are felt in the body.
Our bodies experience emotions too, not just our minds. They take in the impact from the environment. E.g. When there are threats, like being chased by an angry charging dog, our para sympethtic nervous system kicks in and pushes our body to flee. As with any situations or relationships which put us in a "danger zone", our bodies feel the impact first. This is a fascinating and often overlooked aspect of our emotional lives.
No. 4, we need our thoughts to make meaning from emotions which then decide on our actions next. Our actions have a goal, which is to achieve safety.
Our thoughts and emotions worked hand in hand, they complement each other. Making meaning of how we feel about some situations/relationships urge us to take actions to keep ourselves safe.
Sometimes, the action tendencies might not be helpful but they are there for a good reason. E.g. By avoiding any social situations which put me in a place where I felt like I need to perform, I save myself from the possibilities of making a fool of myself, which will leads to my overthinking self that reruns every conversations I had with others.
Is this a good move if I want to connect with others? I don't think so. Is it good for self-preservation? Definitely. (I'll try to make another blog about this tug of war between self-preservation and creating connections. So, I'll just continue my babbles on emotions first)
No. 5, emotions are tide to the quality of our relationship with the environment we are in
Let's say when we're in a dangerous environment, where we do not have safe relationships to count on, primitively our fear will drive us to move to a safer place. When we're out, the fear cycle ends and we no longer feel the threats (e.g. toxic relationships). (note: in cases of having post-traumatic stress disorder, a person's threat system might have difficulty feeling safe even when out of danger zone)
Same goes when we're celebrating joyous occassions or with our favourite persons, we do not want that to end. Joy will want to be extended and expanded. It feels safe to hang around more.
Last and not the least, there are times where we are required to put our emotions aside for practical reasons and that is totally OK. For example, a firefighter cannot afford to be overwhelmed by fear in the midst of a rescue operation.
However, it's important to remember that emotions are not the enemy. They have a purpose and offer us direction for what to do next. Listening to our emotions can be a powerful tool for self-awareness and personal growth.
So, let’s embrace our emotions with a bit more kindness and understanding. If your emotions feel too intense to handle alone, it's completely okay to reach out for support, whether that’s through friends, family, or mental health professionals. Just remember to address them when you're in a safe space; allow ourselves the time for emotions to be felt and processed.
Here's to embracing our full humanity, emotions included, with compassion and insight
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