Feelings are Information
It is news to some of my clients that we are always feeling something and in turn that these feelings are important as they give us information and feedback about what we personally need and don’t need. Our feelings themselves are neither good or bad, they just tell us different things. It is helpful to realise it is our behaviour, which we have a choice over, that arises from how we are feeling that may or may not be acceptable.
It’s not surprising that we aren’t taught much about our emotions as although emotional intelligence is increasingly valued, feelings are still largely unquantifiable and more associated with the feminine. I believe that this poses a challenge to our historically patriarchal society as the structures we have to run and manage our world are based on logic and knowledge, and information from feelings is often seen as a threat rather than additional and valuable information.
Managing our Emotion
It can help to have a structure to understand our emotions and how we process them, so here is a three step model:
1) Awareness. The first step is to be aware of what we are feeling, and this noticing in itself can be sufficient acknowledgment for some of our feelings.
2) Expression. However, if we find ourselves dwelling on a feeling or it is particularly strong then we probably need to move onto step two to express that feeling and share it in some way, particularly in relationship with others. Expressing ourselves might be anything from a doodle on a piece of paper, talking to ourselves, to saying something to someone else such as “I feel angry when you say X” or “I feel excited when you suggest Y”. Expression acknowledges the emotion we are feeling and in relationships gives us the possibility to ask for what we want / need or to say what is unacceptable to us and hold our personal boundaries.
3) Expulsion. Sometimes we grow up learning not to express some or all of our emotions – perhaps because it never felt safe to share them, or because we learned certain emotions were unacceptable, or it was safer to disengage totally and not even know what we were feeling. As emotions are information telling us what we need or don’t need, by denying them or limiting what we are able to feel or voice, there is inevitably a build up of emotion, even if we are unaware of it. This might be like a volcano that erupts or a pool that is always overflowing over the smallest things, both of which we can ‘feel’ we have little control over. This is where we can skip steps and go straight into expelling our emotion. This is the scary place where we can shock ourselves by our violence and end up with bruised and bloodied knuckles and broken plates, or lose ourselves in full blown hysterical crying. Even if we learn to ensure those around us are safe in such explosions, it is not an easy place to live life from and hurting ourselves can become a way of coping with the emotional overwhelm.
Expelling our emotion is not ‘bad’ as we all feel extreme emotion at times, or find our emotions have built up inside, and it can be a healthy third step when expression doesn’t feel enough. The key is learning safe ways to let emotion out, even if it can feel a bit odd to experiment to find what works; you could punch a cushion, scream into a pillow, cry a lot, play sport, work out etc. However, given that emotional expulsion can also scare and hurt both ourselves and those around us, it’s important to realise that becoming more aware and expressing our emotions can reduce the build up and need to expel.
Coming next.. a blog exploring emotions within relationships and parenting. To read past ezine articles you can look at my Your Relationship Coach website.