Emotions get a bad wrap in our culture. Somehow we have decided that it is okay to accept some emotions while labeling others as negative or bad. In doing that we somehow communicate to ourselves and our kids that certain emotions are normal and others are abnormal.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people come into my office with problems because they:
- think they are crazy for having feelings
- ignore their feelings and now they are too big to ignore
- they see no useful value in feelings yet are confused as to why they are stuck
- they are frustrated with some relationship in their life
Let me first say, EVERYONE HAS FEELINGS!!!! (There, I FEEL better).
It is perfectly normal to feel, emotions don’t make you crazy but actually NORMAL. Yes, that is right, feelings are perfectly normal. WHAT?? Even the “bad” ones like anxiety, grief, sadness and anger? Yes, even those are completely and totally NORMAL!
Somehow, we have lost an understanding of the purpose and benefit of emotions. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of problems like: clinical anxiety disorders, major depression, relationship problems, and addiction issues.
Emotions are God given. God is an emotional God who feels all range of emotions, even the ones we label as bad. One of the ways that humans uniquely image God is our emotional nature. God designed emotions to be a signal system, similar to our senses. We collect information about the physical world through our five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch). No one labels one of these senses as bad, just because they smell something bad. Your nose is just giving you information. There is a bad smell; I think I should leave the room (this may or may not happen a lot in my house…because I live with boys). Our senses serve to protect and guide us through the physical world.
Emotions work in a similar way. We get information about the relational world through feelings (sad, angry, afraid, happy, content, shame, safe, love, alone etc.). Emotions give us information. They tell us what we need and give us energy to take action. Emotions serve to protect and guide us in the relational world.
If you ignore a feeling, that is trying to give you information and you aren’t listening…it will get LOUDER. I mean, wouldn’t you get louder if you were trying to get someone’s attention?? So ignoring, stuffing, numbing, or denying a feeling only creates louder feelings. These louder feelings are what send some into panic, depression, or fits of rage. Not only that, if you ignore, stuff, numb, or deny the “bad” feelings…then you mute the “good” feelings too. This is not at all what we want. We numb or ignore because we want the good feelings…but maybe that’s not the way to get them. Maybe we must accept that there are times when we will feel needed hard feelings like sadness or fear and that is okay, normal, and healthy.
Another reason people avoid emotions is because they don’t like the feeling and are concerned they will get “stuck” in a certain emotion. Emotions are not permanent states of being. We feel a variety of different things throughout the day. Emotions ebb and flow like running water. Yet not acknowledging or accepting a feeling does cause it to linger and sometimes it takes a while for us to process something that has happened.
So what can you do to start paying attention to the signals your emotions give you:
- Give yourself permission to feel.
- Validate your emotions. Let it be okay, seen, and experienced.
- Pay attention to the emotions as they flow throughout the day, name them, write them down.
- What message is the emotion giving you, what do you need? Contemplate this before you act.
- Share your emotion and need with a safe person (someone who loves you as you are, flaws and all).
- Watch the movie Inside Out for more help on understanding feelings and their purpose (such a good movie…I can’t even begin to say how much I love it and how accurate it is in explaining emotions).
- Seek help. Counselors can help give you language for emotion and will walk you through this process with a specific focus on you, your history, and your issues.
Feelings serve to help us identify needs, connect in relationships, and heal from hurts and traumas. To deny this aspect of your self is like living life on mute instead of full stereo sound OR in black/white instead of full color! Let’s live life in full color and embrace a life full of emotions.
“Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty enough to save you. He will take great delight in you. The quietness of his love will calm you down. He will sing with joy because of you.” Zephaniah 3:16-17
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