If I could go back thirty years and give my younger self some advice it would be to …
“stop avoiding your emotions.”
Back in those days, I expended a lot of energy suppressing my feelings. I tried hard to fit in, do the right thing, and avoid drama of any kind.
I had emotional regulation down to a fine art.
The world saw me as calm, quiet and amiable, while deep inside there was turmoil and emotional chaos.
It took me a long time to figure out that this strategy of avoiding my emotions was not serving me well.
I may have been successful in pushing down difficult feelings at the time, but in the long term I paid a high price as far my mental, emotional and physical health was concerned.
Let me ask, how do you deal with unpleasant feelings?
Do you allow yourself to fully experience your emotions?
Or, like many people, do you find yourself avoiding them at all costs?
In the face of uncomfortable, painful and traumatic feelings, we can all develop complex habits that help us to manage our distress and cope with life’s demands.
I wonder if you regularly use any of the following avoidance tactics.
This is where you feel an emotion but tell yourself it’s unjustified … that you’re being silly … you shouldn’t feel this way … that you’ve misunderstood … you should know better than to react like this.
This is where you choose to ignore the feeling completely. You don’t allow yourself to dwell on it, or worse, you don’t even allow the feeling to surface.
This is where you deliberately push down a feeling as soon as it arises. Some people use their breath. Some people use food.
An example of this is using substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to numb troubling feelings.
This is where you become so busy that there’s no time or space for your feelings to rise to the surface.
This is another form of distraction. It’s when you fill your mind, time and life with other people’s problems, conveniently convincing yourself that their needs are more important and urgent than your own.
This is similar to intellectualizing where you stay in your head. You overthink, analyse and rationalise to such an extent that you never allow your conscious awareness to travel down into your body where your feelings reside.
This is where, consciously or unconsciously, you keep your interactions with others at a very superficial level. You never have any in-depth conversations with anyone, choosing instead to focus on the frivolous things in life.
This is where you wear a mask that hides your true feelings from the world. I was a master at this one!
In fact, we’re a nation of emotional suppressors!
Notice the number of people in your life who will ask you how you are, and how often you feel duty-bound to reply, “I’m fine, thank you,” with a big smile on your face. Deep down, you know they’re not really interested in how you are; they’re just being polite.
Let’s face it: life can be tough. There’s no denying that. And, as human beings, we all shy away from experiencing difficult emotions.
So we all need to have some kind of internal mechanism in place that enables us to regulate our emotions, so that we can function in the world with a degree of self-control.
In the short term, avoiding our feelings every now and again doesn’t do us any harm. However, in the long term it can have a devastating impact on our wellbeing.
Suppression is a dangerous thing.
In their purest form, emotions are energy (e) in motion. This energy needs to flow, to move through our awareness. When we suppress it we simply bury it below the surface and waste further precious energy holding it down there.
The problem is that the energy is still there, bubbling away, waiting for expression. It doesn’t disappear.
That is until one day it erupts.
That eruption might come in the form of a huge aggressive outburst, a nervous breakdown, or a physical illness or disease.
Symptoms of suppressed emotions can also include:
- constant irritability
- bodily aches and pains
- lack of motivation and drive
- and a bitter, resentful attitude.
Emotions are our inner world’s communication system. They carry important messages from the deeper parts of our being.
As such, they need to be acknowledged, accepted, and listened to.
I’ve come to realise that a life without emotions is a life unlived.
In everything we do, and in every moment of our lives, we are in a state of experience. And the quality of that experience, whether it’s wonderful or challenging, is defined by the way we feel.
It’s defined by our emotions.
Our emotions connect us to our deepest and most fundamental needs, to our yearnings and desires. They let us know when life is working for us, and they also tell us when something is wrong.
Emotions help us to successfully navigate through life. After all, our most basic instincts prompt us to move towards things that make us feel good and away from things that make us feel bad.
Therefore, when something inside us is crying out to be heard we need to listen, and we need to respond.
So, next time you experience a difficult emotion are you going to:
push it down with a doughnut or a glass of vodka?
get super busy by focusing on something else?
- or acknowledge the feeling and reflect on what it’s trying to tell you?
Put your answer in the comments box below.
I hope you found this blog helpful. If you’re struggling with a difficult feeling and would like to talk through the issues that are bothering you, then please check out the counselling services page under the services tab.
Talking in a safe, confidential, non-judgmental space is a great way to give expression to suppressed feelings.