Many of us hope for lives that imitate beer commercials, all happiness and fun. But that fantasy sets us up for disappointment because our lives have more than one dimension, and true emotional health is about experiencing the breadth and depth of our feelings and our lives.
The very nature of life means we will all face losses and difficulties. Yet many of us have been socialized from an early age to ignore loss and hide our real feelings. Most of us have seen the angry child dragged over to a playmate to hiss through clenched teeth, “I’m sorry.” Many of us were once that child. Not to say misbehavior should be ignored; but we can be responsible for our behavior without having to lie to ourselves and others about what we’re feeling.
Think of the stress and wasted energy many of us expend struggling to submerge our feelings instead of learning to express them in healthy ways, such as crying when sad or being assertive when angry. In 1992 The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that emotions are tied to our autonomic nervous system, which controls our heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, respiration, and perspiration, showing clearly that physical and emotional health are interdependent. A 1997 Journal of Abnormal Psychology study reported that not expressing feelings impacts our health and longevity.
Expressing feelings may be difficult in part because we’ve been trained to see certain emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear as negative. Often we’ve learned to repress these feelings by distracting ourselves with sugar, adrenalin highs, drugs, alcohol, accomplishments, and sex. Yet anger can be a great motivator for change. It was anger about the loss of clean air and water that got people lobbying for change through the environmental movement. Fear can have similar positive effects, causing us to step back from the abyss and live another day. Case in point: it was only when my mom faced a serious bout of pneumonia that she quit smoking.
The challenge is to step towards emotional health and learn to experience and express our emotions appropriately. We need to become familiar with our emotions in order to express them well. A first step may be to reflect often on the question, “What am I feeling right now?” Another option may be to talk with someone who can listen without judging – a family member, friend, or a counselor. If expressing your feelings with others is too intimidating, consider expressing them through writing, drawing, music, or even screaming into a pillow while in the bathroom with the shower running.
Anymore I wear my feelings out in plain sight most of the time and express them willingly. It has impressed me how much more people seem to relate to me and I to them once “feelings” are consistently out on the table . It’s simple really, letting my feelings show to those I care has made my relationships and my life better. And I’m grateful one of those relationships is with myself.
for showing your feelings.
When you do,
you are apologizing
for the truth.
Jose N. Harris