Artist Marzi Wilson grew up acting like she was totally OK when she really wasn’t. “If I felt sad or angry, I tried to hide it,” she told me. “Those emotions felt shameful, somehow.”
They do feel shameful, don’t they?
Even though we know intellectually that others feel sorrow and rage and regret, we still feel alone in our feelings. We think something is really wrong with us for having them. And we still think of these feelings as bad.
So we do everything we can do to shove them somewhere, anywhere so we don’t have to see them.
However, over the years, Wilson has realized the great benefits of her emotions, in large part thanks to therapy. “Having a safe space where someone asked about my feelings helped me to shift my perspective,” she said. “When someone else listens and validates your emotions, it’s very healing.”
Wilson also realized that emotions can be invaluable teachers. She noted that the biggest lessons her emotions have taught her revolve around self-worth: “As I began to express my feelings, I realized I’d been ‘hiding’ from the people closest to me, thereby cheating myself of the closeness that grows from vulnerability.”
“Learning to embrace and express my emotions has been empowering, and it’s improved my relationships with others, as well as how I perceive myself,” she said.
Wilson talks about the importance of emotions and how to deal with them in her relatable, encouraging, insightful book, The Little Book of Big Feelings: An Illustrated Exploration of Life’s Many Emotions. She explores all kinds of emotions, including joy, sadness, frustration, hope, anger, embarrassment, and overwhelm.
She believes that when we give ourselves permission to fully feel our feelings, our lives become richer—and we feel more at ease. “I feel more balanced when what I feel internally aligns with what I express externally.”
So, how do we fully feel our feelings? What does this actually look like?
According to Wilson, it looks like “simply acknowledging and naming those feelings,” which also helps those feelings “seem more manageable.”
And it’s the latter that’s so key, because in addition to feeling shame for having “bad” emotions, we also aren’t sure what the heck to do with them. They just seem so massive and overwhelming and too much.
Thus, when an uncomfortable emotion arises, get specific. Try not to judge. Be matter of fact. There’s anger. There’s heartbreak. There’s sorrow.
Sit with the emotion. Feel the sensations that are arising. There’s tension in my temples. There’s pain in my chest. There’s a heaviness inside my heart. Doing this for just one minute can be transformative (you can even set a timer).
Then find a way to express the emotion. Wilson suggested making art, seeing a therapist, or talking to a trusted friend. In addition to therapy, she’s found journaling and doodling to be especially helpful.
Experiment with a variety of options, and remember that different emotions might call for different tools, and so might different days: Sometimes, sharing your sadness with your spouse can be healing. Other times, you need to paint it out. Yet another time, you might want a heart-pumping dance class or a super slow yoga flow.
Again, it’ll vary.
What’s most important is that you realize that “It’s OK to feel whatever you’re feeling,” Wilson said.
And I hope you do.