Fear of Emotions
Most of us didn’t grow up learning how to relate to our emotions. In fact, most of us didn’t grow up talking much about our emotions at all. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t learn lessons about them. We learned plenty of lessons. Most of them just weren’t consciously or intentionally imparted upon us, and like most things that aren’t consciously and intentionally chosen, the messages we received were shaped by unexamined baggage.
Common lessons learned about emotions:
- “Happy” is good, everything else is bad
- Emotions need to be kept private/to ourselves
- Openly expressing emotion is embarrassing or shameful
- Feeling strong emotions means we are “out of control,” “unstable,” or “weak”
- Emotions are scary, dangerous, or bad
- Emotions need to be controlled, suppressed, dampened down, or “managed”
- Emotions need to be moved through quickly and should be relatively mild, or there’s a problem
- If we allow ourselves to let go and fully feel our sadness, grief, fear, anger, fill in the blank _______, it will take over and we’ll never stop feeling it
This list could go on, but you get the point.
Most of us have been receiving negative messages about our emotions from a very young age. Often these messages were implicit (not directly stated). Implicit messages, and the beliefs that are born from them, are difficult to challenge because so often we aren’t even aware they exist! We just see them as “the way things are.”
Many of the damaging implicit messages we received were cultural and passed down through multiple generations, likely the result of trauma and what it took to survive that trauma. I have deep compassion for that. AND it’s time to heal these legacies of intergenerational trauma by rewriting our narrative around emotions.
Emotions Are Not "Good" or "Bad," They Just Are
E-motions. Emotions are energy in motion. Energy moving through the body. That’s it. They aren’t good. They aren’t bad. They are simply energy. And just like the weather, they’re not static but are constantly shifting. The level of intensity of the energy is variable—sometimes incredibly strong, sometimes slight and nearly imperceptible.
The practice of releasing the good/bad value judgments that we learned to assign our emotional states is a step toward a more mindful, accepting relationship with ourselves as human beings. The first step is just beginning to notice what emotions our inner critic deems “bad.” What emotions trigger negative self-talk?
Emotions Don’t Need to be “Managed”
Learning to “manage” our emotions is a phrase we hear a lot. “Anger management” classes are popular, for instance. But we don’t need to learn to manage our emotions. Our emotions, like the weather, to return to the analogy above, can’t be predicted or controlled. And this is not a problem, it simply is what it is.
Many of us have been taught that certain emotions are dangerous, but no emotions are dangerous. It’s what we choose to do in response to our emotions that can be damaging. We have to learn to manage our reactions to our emotions, not the emotions themselves.
This is an important distinction because if we believe that the emotions themselves need to be managed, we are perpetuating the false narrative that emotions are dangerous if they get too intense, strong, or “out of control.” Emotions are not a problem—no matter how intense and painful they may be. We can teach ourselves how to feel them and weather the internal storm, because it always passes.
Feelings vs. Actions
It’s important to draw an inner distinction between feelings and actions. Just because we feel something doesn’t mean we have to act on it. All feelings are ok and welcome, all actions are not. It’s ok to feel angry, it’s not ok to take our feelings out on others.
No feelings—even difficult, painful ones—are a problem to be solved or gotten rid of. We come to believe that our feelings are a problem to be tightly managed and controlled (which, remember, is impossible, so we're setting ourselves up for lots of anxiety if we subscribe to this falsehood) when we don’t feel as if we have any choice about how to respond to our inner state. When we believe we have no choice but to yell at others when we are angry, we think the anger itself is the problem to be solved. When we build a relationship with our emotions we expand our window of tolerance for uncomfortable feelings and a whole host of options open up to us.
Own Your Feelings
Along with being taught that emotions are bad, many of us were taught that we're responsible for other people’s emotional experience, and vice versa. This belief is often the result of poor emotional boundary systems, where emotions were not addressed or spoken about directly. Maybe you were expected to intuit or guess what other people were feeling by closely observing their body language, words, etc. “Oh, mom is slamming the door and stomping around the house. That means she's mad.”
Fully owning our emotions and taking responsibility for them is a powerful way to make sure that we're practicing healthy emotional boundaries. Our emotions are our own and we’re responsible for taking care of ourselves and asking for what we need, and the same goes for other people. It’s not our job to guess what other people are feeling and it’s not our job to “fix” another person’s feelings. It’s also not anyone else’s job to do that for us.
Our emotions are constantly providing us with information. If you are consistently feeling angry, sad, or rejected in a certain relationship, that’s your body’s way of alerting you that something needs to change. Uncomfortable emotions have a very specific purpose. And again, just because an emotion is painful doesn’t mean that it’s a problem. Painful, difficult, uncomfortable emotions are actually a very important feedback mechanism, letting you know what is ok and what isn’t ok with you. We can learn to listen to these messages and then take appropriate actions in response to them (i.e. leaving a relationship where you’re constantly feeling terrible).
Learning to do this requires practice and the willingness to turn our attention inward with an attitude of openness and curiosity.
What Were You Taught About Emotions Growing Up?
What unique messages did you receive from your caregivers about emotions growing up? What messages did you receive implicitly by watching others? What messages did you receive explicitly (stated directly)? What emotions were ok to express? What emotions weren’t ok to express? What stories do you tell yourself about emotions today?
What is Your Relationship Like with Your Emotions Today?
Do you have a relationship with your emotions? What kind of relationship is it? Is it caring and compassionate? Is it condemning and judgmental? Do you have different relationships with different emotions? Are there emotions that you avoid feeling at all costs? Are there some emotions that you are comfortable feeling, but only when you are alone?
Turning our attention inward and getting curious about our relationship to our emotions is a powerful way to begin trusting ourselves. Trusting ourselves to be able to skillfully handle any and all situations that life throws our way.
Looking for an Online Therapist in Kansas?
Ready to turn your attention inward and understand yourself more deeply? My Lawrence, Kansas counseling practice specializes in providing therapy for codependency, therapy for anxiety, therapy for self-esteem, therapy for Highly Sensitive People, and grief and bereavement counseling. I help people overcome shame and the fear of being their true selves. Breaking the cycles of people pleasing and self-abandonment is possible, and I'm here to help.
I offer online counseling throughout Kansas. Reach out today to schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation. I'd love to hear from you!
Other Services Offered by Sacred Circle Holistic Healing
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