For many years during many times I was disconnected from my emotions. I might’ve been terrified inside, but I pretended that I was OK. I might’ve been angry with how I was being treated, but I swallowed the frustration and buried it deep. I got so used to ignoring my feelings that others just assumed I was unemotional or indifferent or simply very easy-going and calm.
A few days ago, I read this post from Danielle LaPorte about being “too emotional.” She was told by an investor not to be too emotional about her company “going up in flames.” But Danielle realized that had she been more emotional her company might not be burning.
She defines “emotional” as being “more in touch with my heart, with my body cues, with my feelings.” And if she had been connected to her heart, body cues and feelings, she would have done things differently and spoke up sooner. “Instead, I muffled my own agency to play along,” she writes.
Last month I wrote a piece about anger. Many of us view anger as a scary emotion. As an emotion to avoid. Often that’s because we confuse it with aggression. But anger and aggression are two very different things. Aggression is an act or a statement that might be harmful to someone or something else (according to authors Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D, RPsych, and Kim L. Gratz, Ph.D, in The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook for Anger).
Anger, of course, is an emotion. Anger protects us. Anger tells us when something isn’t right. When our boundaries are being broken. When we’re being taken advantage of. When an injustice is occurring.
When we ignore our emotions, we also ignore important information. When we don’t express our emotions (in assertive, not passive-aggressive, ways), we also ignore our voice. Which is unhealthy. Which is disrespectful to ourselves. We tell our needs to take a hike, and we struggle internally.
In her piece Danielle offers this powerful insight: “Feelings are fuel. Run those feelings through the engine of your intellect and you make real progress.”
So try to embrace your emotions. Think of your emotions as guides, as messengers, as telegrams or letters. Like Danielle writes, when we combine our feelings with our wisdom, incredible things happen.
And if you’re more used to ignoring, dismissing or criticizing your feelings, start slow and small. Name the emotion swimming inside your body. Accept it (instead of saying “I can’t believe I’m anxious!” or “I don’t have the right to feel angry” or “What’s wrong with me?!”).
Get curious about the emotion. What physical sensations are you feeling? What’s happening in your stomach? In your chest? In your head?
Describe your emotions. Write them down, if that helps. Then listen to the thoughts surrounding that emotion. Listen to what you’re telling yourself. (This piece is filled with valuable tips on identifying emotions.)
According to Darlene Mininni, there are four major emotions. To figure out what our emotions are trying to tell us, in this piece, she suggested asking ourselves these questions:
- If you’re feeling anxious, ask: What am I afraid of?
- If you’re feeling sad, ask: What have I lost?
- If you’re feeling angry, ask: How have I or my values been attacked?
- If you’re feeling happy, ask: What have I gained?
Then after you understand how you’re feeling, and you’ve processed those feelings, consider how you might want to proceed. Ask yourself what you need. For instance, if your boundary is being crossed, get very clear on what you want the other person to do. Then calmly and politely make the request. Speak up.
Years ago I was rarely indifferent or even calm. I simply became an expert at pushing down my emotions. At pretending these emotions didn’t even exist. At letting others be in charge. At letting others speak for me. There were many times I stayed quiet while things were going up in flames.
Connecting to our emotions and embracing them takes practice. Speaking up for ourselves takes practice. But when we do start practicing, what an amazing gift we give to ourselves—and to others. Because we honor our hearts. Because we finally tell the truth.