Emotions, useful? You bet – here’s the why and how
It’s not often I enjoy a “kid film” as much as I did this past summer’s Pixar hit, Inside Out. I laughed, I cried, I felt connected with myself (as things resonated with me) and also with my eight-year old daughter whose hand I squeezed all throughout. I kept thinking, “How wonderfully healthy for her and all other children to be watching this movie!” At some point I realized that its message about the importance of being in touch with our emotions is actually nothing new to them. Especially the first few years of life, they are one raw and shameless flow of emotions. No, this message is MOST needed among us adults!
How we get separated from our emotions
Most of us received training by our parents and the rest of society at a very young age to subdue our pain, hide our sadness, be sensible, not be “needy.” We’re told to go to our room and THINK logically about our actions, come back only when we’ve calmed down. We were being prepared for the real world—one we’ve created—in which there isn’t much time and space provided for emotions. Especially those we perceive as “negative,” such as sadness, grief, frustration. In public or work settings and even in our relationships, we have been trained to block, hide, suppress these emotions. (It can be a bit confusing how our society allows, even encourages expression of feelings we consider “positive,” like joy, excitement, passion!)
Why we have emotions
Emotions reside in us, all the time, helping us to navigate throughout our daily lives, informing us about how to experience safety, acceptance, connection, contribution—all very basic needs of human beings of any age. When we’re emotionally blocked, we’re more likely to feel distance from ourselves and others and disempowered (like the run-away heroine of Inside Out). Giving our emotions quality attention supports us in experiencing choice of new action which lead to breakthroughs and fulfillment.
What can we do differently?
How can we get more comfortable with what is honestly alive in us, in each other? The first step is highlighted beautifully in Inside Out: See feelings as feelings, and stop judging them as good or bad. As Anthony Robbins puts it in his best-seller, Awakening the Giant: “Realize that every emotion we feel is a gift, a guideline, a support system, a call to action.” The less than pleasurable ones simply tell us something currently isn’t working, for example a lack of clearly communicating needs and other patterns of behavior.
SPOILER ALERT: In the movie, Sadness saved the day, even though Joy worked hard at first to snuff her out of the picture. She thought this was the “right” thing to do, because feeling happy is “better” than feeling sad. The takeaway message is that pain is a part of life, and when there’s room and acceptance for it, there doesn’t have to be suffering . . . or spillover effects from suppressing our full range of feelings.
We are often overly general with our emotional state, for example when we say we’re “stressed,” “off,” or “in a bad mood.” We do this when we think people don’t really care or want to be bothered with our feelings. Or we use this as a way to keep our own feelings at arm’s length. Yet, if we desire to use our feelings to our benefit, we can practice being far more specific and communicative about them. This brings more clarity, understanding, and compassion and as a result connection, results, efficiency. It takes practice for most of us who have un-learned how to be in touch with and/or deal with our feelings effectively. Here are a few steps you can try:
- Watch this playful 7-minute video to learn about the importance of giving emotions space: Alfred & Shadow
- Read Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
- Practice on your own by giving yourself uninterrupted time and space to clearly identify what you are feeling (refer to my Feelings list)
- Really explore what’s there – often there’s a layering, e.g. beneath anger is typically fear, sadness or shame. Use my exercise, “Allow Emotions to Serve You”
- Take on individual sessions with an empathy-based coach (contact me)
- Visit an haptonomy therapist who teaches you how to identify emotions in the body
- Sign up for a Nonviolent Communication course (I’m giving one this fall in Amsterdam, Thursday evenings, Oct-Dec 2016)
- Emotions play a big role in our work lives as well. Contact me to initiate a team training in which co-workers learn to deal effectively with their differences (including cultural, emotional, decision-making styles, giving feedback, etc.)
If you like this, you might also enjoy this article I wrote for expatsHaarlem: Exploring and Experiencing Emotions in Frans Hals Museum Exhibition.