Emotions are core to our sense of self and yet so many people reject their emotions, judge them, fear them or suppress them. Why is it so hard to tolerate, befriend and integrate our emotions and what are the consequence of not doing it?
In our culture, negative emotions can be judged as a sign of weakness. However, our emotions serve an important function – they let us know what is important to us, they help us connect to our needs and important desires, they help us know when our boundaries have been violated, they help us to be authentic, they give us meaning and help us make sense of life and they help us to connect with others. We are always feeling something and our feelings affect our choices and actions.
How our important caregivers responded to our emotions growing up can have a big impact on how we learned to respond to our emotions. If you were judged when you were teary or upset, you may have learnt to judge yourself for these feelings. If it was not safe to express anger growing up, you may suppress it now. If your emotions were ignored or dismissed, you most likely have learnt to ignore or judge them. If distressing events occurred during your childhood, which led you to feel distress and fear, and there was no-one to support you to manage and soothe those emotions, you may have learnt to feel overwhelmed by, and fearful of your emotions. On the other hand, if your emotions were listened to, validated and you were given tools and support to manage them, then you can probably tolerate a range of emotions, work through them, reflect on them, seek appropriate support if necessary and take appropriate action based on them.
To be healthy and functional in life and our relationships, we need to be able to feel and connect with all of our emotions, even the unpleasant ones. If you are walking down the street and you see someone behaving aggressively and shouting, you may feel some fear or anxiety and decide to walk a different way. That fear guides you to make a choice which helps keep you safe. Sometimes however, people can experience too much fear, triggered by situations where there is no real danger and this can be potentially crippling. This can happen for a range of reasons, one of them being unresolved emotions and memories from the past. All negative or distressing emotions serve a purpose and are designed to motivate us towards taking action to ensure our survival or bring us back to a state of homeostasis, which is a state of physical and psychological balance, in which we tend to experience more positive emotions, such as love or joy.
When we judge, avoid and suppress our emotions our choices and actions may not be balanced or healthy. For example, a person may drink alcohol to avoid feeling an unpleasant emotion, which if done habitually can affect their health, functioning and relationships. It has also been found that suppressing our emotions can cause stress in our body, which leads to stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, being released into our body, which, if chronic, can impact the endocrine, lymphatic and immune systems and gut health, leaving us more vulnerable to disease.
Research has found that suppressing or avoiding your emotions can, in fact, make them stronger. Often the emotion is still present and may cause you to overreact to other situations. Research has found that emotion suppression can also impact memory, lead to misunderstandings in conversations with others and lead to less effective communication between partners. It has also been found that men and women who avoid emotions, especially negative ones, are more likely to experience high anxiety and depression in their lifetime. If we judge and can’t be with our own emotions, then it is difficult to be empathic with other people’s emotions. This can impact our close relationships, including our partner and children. We can tend to be reactive, judgmental or dismissive or feel overwhelmed by their emotions instead of being calm and empathic.
It is important for us all to find ways to feel our emotions without judging them, suppressing them or being overwhelmed by them. When we feel them, we can gain an understanding of why they are there and make sense of them, integrate them, learn ways to calm and process them, and then we can make conscious decisions and take actions that are constructive and aligned with our values. There are a range of ways that can be helpful for increasing emotional self-awareness and integration, for example, journalling, creative expression, yoga, energy healing and counselling. See my services if you would like to explore how Soul-centred healing, coaching or counselling can help you to develop good emotional well-being and greater emotional resilience.