Updated: Apr 23, 2018
I’m a very emotional person but I came from a family where expressing emotions was not allowed. My parents grew up in polar opposite environments, my mother’s family did not really express much emotion and my fathers was verbally abusive and somewhat violent. This lead to a household where we had to be pretty emotionally neutral most of my life as my mother’s tendency was to be calm and my father had a very difficult time with emotion as when it came up when he was a child it was charged he would expect things to explode any time they got heated. I was scared of emotions and had no way to express them.
It took me many years of work to look at things from a different perspective then emotions are bad and to keep things bottled up. I share this with clients as it can be one of the most important things that they learn.
When a client first come to me I ask them a few questions in order to understand where they are coming from. One of those questions is how they perceive their emotions. The answer is usually something along the lines of fear, sadness and anger are bad and joy is good. When you look at it this way it is easy to avoid the bad and strive for the good emotions which can lead to not dealing with or processing emotions which gets them stuck in the nervous system and the emotional brain which is located through your organs.
My perspective is that emotions are neither good nor bad but are actually neutral. When you experience fear, anxiety or worry it is telling your body feels threatened. When you are experiencing anger there is something out of alignment around you. When you are experiencing sadness you are having trouble accepting something that has changed. When you are experiencing joy your body is telling you that things are in alignment and working for you.
What you do in response to these emotions can be good or bad. If you are angry and you lash out physically or verbally or even suppress the feeling it can be bad. If you can find a way to express that anger that shows how you feel and leaves room to work through it it can be very good.
If you are sad and you ignore it or don’t address the change that has happened you can get stuck in grief. If you are able to find a way to accept that things have changed, even if you do not like the change, you can see what you have learned from the situation and work at moving through it to a positive result.
When fear comes up and you resort to flight fight or freeze it can have a negative effect as you become reactive. If you are able to address the fear and realize that your body is telling you that something is off you can work through it, calm yourself and then take positive action in order to shift the feeling. (I will dress this further in another article)
Joy can be a wonderful feeling but it is also neutral as it is telling us that we are doing something that is in alignment with us. It can be expressed in a number of ways including negative. The difference between “I’m so happy and grateful that I’m on this beach with great friends” is very different from “Hey losers, I’m having a wonderful time with my friends on the beach, sucks to be you since you aren’t here”. It may feel good but it is a much more negative way to express that joy.
Now, how does this help with your life and expression? When you view emotions as neutral you can see how having them can be useful and give you indications of what you might do next in any given circumstance without being reactive to the feeling that you are having. You will also start to become less afraid of the outcome of expressing those emotions. Most of us are taught that expressing certain emotions is bad and when emotions are suppressed and they build then by the time you express them they can be very charged and expressed aggressively which can frighten people, get them angry, make them feel bad or have them run from the situation which leaves the problem unresolved in most cases.
Some people bottle up those emotions because they are fearful of expressing them or are just not sure how to work through them. I work with clients to bring up the bottled up emotions, process them and allow for them to feel safe through the process so that they are less fearful of how they will come out when expressed. Having this understanding also allows for them to work with how they feel in their day to day life as well as during a session. In the beginning it takes some trust and work to connect to how they are really feeling and work through it in a less charged way but as they practice this expression they find that it gets easier and less scary.
I know that many people have a difficult time with this concept but once you play around with it and experiment you will find that it opens up a whole new world of expression and freedom. It also helps with stress and anxiety around circumstances that seem troubling or are loaded on both sides of a situation. Most people find that when they practice this and are able to work through how they feel then the people around them seem to change, be less triggered and are much more open to having difficult conversations.