Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things.

Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal.

Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions.

Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it.

Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy. Always.

-S.C. Lourie

Why do we have a hard time identifying what our emotions are trying to tell us?

Many people spend time trying to deny that they are influenced in any significant way by the rhythm, pace, love, violence, etc. of other people and the outer world.  People often try to avoid emotional pain or distress. Some people act emotions out with behaviors like eating, using drugs or alcohol, having sex, working excessively, zoning out to TV and the internet, keeping conversations superficial, and pretending that our feelings are otherwise.    We sometimes try not to go inward, or to actually feel, acknowledge, and sit with our emotions. We think that maybe if we ignore them, they will just go away.  We may believe our emotions are “bad.”  There is fear involved.  Becoming specific about how we are feeling allows us to move through life more dynamically; but this takes courage.

Why is it vital to understand our emotions?

I once read: “Running away from an emotion is a sure way to carry it with you.”  It’s true…Our emotions aren’t going anywhere.  Being human and having emotions is a package deal.  And thank god!  Would we really want to be robots, or non-feeling machines?

It is vital to understand our emotions because they serve a purpose: If I touch a hot pot on the stove, I immediately retract my hand, because of the burning sensation of pain.  Pain is helpful and informative because it tells me to avoid further burning or damaging my skin.  Emotions work in the same protective way.  Emotions are a gift because they are our warning systems, messages, or indicators of how things are going.  They keep us on track.  They can provide information to prevent us from harm.  They also point us in the direction of joy and freedom.

What are some common myths about emotions that interfere with us identifying and better understanding our emotions?

There’s a misconception about the innate goodness/badness of emotions. This common myth that some emotions are “bad” leads us to believe that the less of them we have, the better.  But ALL emotions are part of being human. Being unemotional would not only be inhuman, but if we were to remove all the uncomfortable feelings, we’d have to skip out on the good ones too.

Rather than judging the feelings, I encourage clients to look at emotions with curiosity.  What messages are our emotions sending us about how to better care for ourselves or others.

Another myth is that emotions need to be controlled.  In truth, emotions need to be allowed.  There are all kinds of ways to pacify, ignore, manipulate, suppress, deny and avoid our emotions, but none of this truly works.  Emotions are just asking to be felt.

It helps to remember that emotions are not permanent. Even if it feels overwhelming, recalling that emotions will pass helps build resilience, acceptance, and wisdom in the process of experiencing.  Letting go of our need to control our emotions allows us to be open to the outcome of our emotions and what unfolds.

In practice – Different journaling prompts, practices, and questions we can ask to ourselves to explore our emotions:

I sometimes pretend I am not affected by tightly scheduled days or by hostile comments –that I am “cool, calm, and collected.”  However, usually in such situations, I’ve learned the use of checking in with my own movement and my body. I find that I may have a tightened core, my breathing is shallow, and I’m clumsy or less coordinated. When I do tune in, instead of being more distressed to find the sensations in my body and the corresponding emotions (that I am anxious, overwhelmed, agitated, etc.), it can be uplifting and empowering, and it engenders a sense of aliveness.

Anger, for example, is and was an emotion I often repressed or denied because I associated it with violence, out-of-control behavior, and serious consequences.  Ignoring my anger often led me to passivity, surrendering my power or withholding my truth; and therefore, feeling inferior, weak or disadvantaged.  I am continuously learning to accept my anger and as I do this it teaches me empowerment, protection, and gratitude.

To understand how you are feeling, I suggest you spend time familiarizing yourself with your emotions, without judgment. Notice when there is “chatter” in the mind, and notice when you are trying to rationalize, intellectualize, or reason your way through an emotional experience.  Move your attention inside, to the body.  What are the sensations inside?  What’s the quality of the sensation? What is the emotion associated? Place your own hand wherever the sensations are strongest, offering yourself support.  Sometimes you will realize that the constricted throat; upset, knotted stomach; racing heart; and flushed face; all point to the emotion anger, or sadness, or what have you.  You might notice that softening in your chest brings a feeling of sadness (or joy).  You can use the feeling to help you move more softly (or exuberantly with power).

Once there is an emotion identified, try journaling about it: What is the thought that I am thinking in that moment?  What do I need to walk away from or let go of in this moment? What do I need more of in this moment? What is the lesson this emotion might be here to teach me so that I see more of life’s richness?  Keep an emotions journal and record your dreams in this way.  Be curious, and open.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Rumi

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