Many of us aren’t familiar with the idea of listening to our emotions. We weren’t taught to process our emotions as kids. Instead, we learned to hide our emotions, avoid thinking about them or dismiss them. Very quickly we picked up on the messages we heard:
When people say, “You’re too sensitive,” what we hear deep down is–You’re not okay because you feel that way.
“Suck it up,” sends us a clear message–Ignore your emotions.
When we hear, “I’ll really give you something to cry about!” what we are telling ourselves is–Do not look for empathy and compassion. Don’t even think of feeling that for yourself.
And, an all-time perennial is, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” which I too have been guilty of saying. It is the ultimate invalidation of ourselves, or the person we are saying it to.
Can you find other examples from your life?
We have been trained to block the messages our emotions are trying to convey to us. We avoid our emotions by turning on the television, reaching for a drink, heading to the refrigerator, scrolling our social media feeds, playing video games, being habitually busy, and other myriad ways that numb us to what is really bothering us. For a while we can escape, avoid and ignore our emotions that are going to make us feel powerless, small, helpless, afraid, sad or angry. Eventually, avoiding our emotions becomes an ingrained habit.
In addition to the messaging we have received, our escapist activities reflect a deep-seated fear of our feelings. We have blocked them for so long, we are afraid that if we start to let them out, we might be overwhelmed and non-functional. We know deep down that while we may have let other people dictate to us how we should feel or behave, our emotions, held at bay for so long, are intense, powerful and threaten to pull us under.
“If I let it all out, I think I’ll explode.”
“If I start crying, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop.”
Have you ever had those thoughts?
Yet, the truth is that when we ignore or suppress our feelings, they don’t go away. They are like a volcano brewing within us. Trying to stop the volcano from erupting takes a lot of our energy keeping us tired and drained. If we were not allowed to express sadness, we might express anger. If we are not allowed to express anger, we might become bitter or sarcastic. Our feelings show up somehow! Moreover, pushing down our feelings can show up non-verbally. For instance, our facial expressions might convey our displeasure or withdrawal. We might subtly or overtly move away using our body language and finally, our behavior towards others becomes visible as we keep people at bay or even push them away.
But, by paying attention to our feelings, we can start to notice the parts of our life that we have put up with for so long and the resentment, bitterness and other emotions that might have built up around it.
It can make us aware of the behavior of others as well as our conditioned responses where we have taken on the projections other people have imposed on us.
Once we become aware of our own emotions and how they’re triggered, we start to understand how other people are triggered and the behavior they project on us. This may be particularly important in a relationship. If we have been constantly told not to listen or trust our feelings, we might ignore and completely miss the warning signs in a relationship until it is too late. Without introspection and reflection, we may never be fully aware of the issues that seem to repeat and reappear in our relationships.
Ultimately, as we start to pay attention to our emotions, we become aware of conditioned, habitual, unsupportive, negative thought patterns that we have absorbed from the culture, media, family of origin or our experiences and by working with our emotions we can start to change these thought patterns and release ourselves from their emotional grip. We can finally start to reclaim our personal power. Then we don’t have to be afraid of feeling our emotions and learning what they have to teach us.