There is no doubt that each one of us is comprised of an ecosystem of thoughts, feelings (emotions), and behaviours. Each affects the others and the way that these interact affects the way we move through life. The question is: are our emotions ‘friend or foe’? Answer: our emotions are one of the best ways to know ourselves, and this self knowledge is one of the best free tools we have for dealing with life and its complexities.
Emotions get a bad rap.
Women at home and in the workplace are often accused of being emotional at times of external or internal stress (life/relational or menstrual/physical), and can even buy into this line of reasoning that “emotions are bad” if we’re not careful. If we’re not accused outright of being “too emotional” when we voice our thoughts with anger, frustration, anxiety, or disappointment, we may sense such a judgement. Worse, those who aspire to leadership positions may have noticed a quiet disdain for any sign of emotionality through the lack of promotion, inclusion, and engagement. Women for hundreds if not thousands of years have been accused of and put down for being emotionally complex instead of celebrated for their capacity to feel and communicate with a wide range of emotions.
What a shame.
This view not only shackles women into having to conform to certain norms and expectations that have long been part of a patriarchal world we’re continually having to confront…it also perpetuates stereotypes and limits men, forcing them to be less of who they really are, too. We’re all emotional beings having a shared experience. What good does it do to shut ourselves down emotionally?
Yet this is how some would have it. Suppress emotion for the sake of productivity and rational thought, keeping the peace, avoiding discomfort. It’s a good thing the sages and many scholars who write about emotion from a psycho-spiritual and sociological standpoint can articulate how emotion can be a potent force for change.
Emotions are your inner self speaking to you!
Whether you understand this literally or intuitively, your emotions are like your inner voice talking to your cognition. Your cognitive thoughts do get drawn into the mix, causing some ‘cognitive dissonance’ and confusion at times. What do you trust – your thoughts or feelings? But isn’t your first point of call with yourself is your own ‘gut’, your feelings? Poets and sages as well as psychologists and psychoanalysts speak of this. Shhhhhh and listen. Whatever comes…your feelings will be hard to ignore. So, why not start to listen?
Physiology and cognition have a lot to do with how we process emotion, which in turn affects how we behave.
Fundamentally, there are six key physiological, neurological, and cognitive theories about emotions. It’s a good review to get you understanding at least why you ARE so emotional. It’s normal! Khan Academy explains a few of these key emotional theories again here, if you really want to dig in, in two short videos, and reinforce your learning.
But the video below on the emotions of the film Inside Out really speaks to me on the complexity of this film: “There are as many theories on emotion as there are psychoanalysts.” Yes. This amazing video (worth 9 minutes of your time) concludes by stating our ultimate goal is ’emotional intelligence’.
Emotional Intelligence can help us all develop self-efficacy in healing.
Emotional intelligence is that old chestnut which author Daniel Goleman coined as a term for his book…the ability to be self aware and to manage our emotions especially in relationships. Easy, or easier said than done?
Quick intro to Goleman’s principles of Emotional Intelligence, in his own words…
Emotional/social intelligence is essentially the ability to manage ones emotions particularly in relationships through: (1) Self awareness. (2) Self management or the alignment of one’s actions with passions and the martialling of positive emotions. (3) Empathy and knowing what someone else is feeling. (4) Putting it all together skillfully in relationships.
Emotional intelligence is essential for healing, and relationships consume much of our life experience, for better and worse.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are other approaches to healing.
But there’s are other approaches to emotional healing than just Goleman’s approaches, and this week we’ll be looking at a few that I particularly love: (1) meditation (2) journalling (3) coaching/mentoring/workshops. As a long-time practitioner of self-development, I have done all, and as a counsellor I have coached, listened, and counselled people to help them reach a better place in themselves. This is work I’m deeply passionate about.
What’s true is this: each to their own. What works for you is your own unique blueprint of approaches, and this is for you to discover. So long as you keep the goal of emotional healing at the fore, these and other emotional healing approaches will help.
It’s worth remembering…
We are animal, too…that is to say, physiological…which affects our behaviour.
Here is a scientific explanation in the simplest of terms on how our emotions and thoughts are triggered by the body’s ability (reptilian-ness) to respond to threats (or perceived threats) or situations of pleasure:
Essentially from a physiological standpoint, our so-called ‘reptilian’-animal brains detect threats and rewards (yes, we are that survivalist at the core). The brain then responds with chemical messages that stimulate stress or pleasure hormones that ultimately trigger negative or positive feelings – and thoughts or ‘cognitive experiences‘. As a result of our thoughts and feelings, we then behave accordingly.
Having some understanding or awareness of your emotional makeup can only help you manage your emotions and live your life more to plan.
Studying your emotions can also lead you more deeply into yourself and if you are ready and able to explore what some call your ‘darker’ emotions, your ‘negative’ emotions (a word I don’t like when ascribed to emotions) or emotions of pain and turmoil, you may very well be willing to do some of the deep work that has become patterned in you, leaving you feeling stuck and unable to make change. Such work is brave and a matter of timing and readiness. But it can be deeply rewarding to begin to find new ways of tapping into your emotions to hear what they have to tell you. Often our emotions reveal the origins of trauma and how this affects you today.
Trauma is often the result of frozen emotion in our bodies.
Much work has been done in trauma on how emotional states become frozen in the body as a result of unexpected and very difficult early childhood experiences as well as experiences in adulthood which then can lead a person to experience post-traumatic stress.
Learning to ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” is one good way to begin to gain self awareness. Even weirder – and a Buddhist psychotherapist friend put it to me years ago over a cup of tea in my living room one night – is, “What are you feeling in your body?” which helps to connect emotional awareness to physiological states. I literally realized after she asked me this a few times over the year that we worked together that my body was speaking to me as much as my emotions were. Another simple approach to releasing emotions including stress is, of course, stretching, which is gaining respect for the work that can be done in relieving traumatic feelings.
Be the emotional sleuth and find out what works for you.
It is a bit like the work of a detective to track and learn what is going on in yourself, emotionally and physically. But in the process of doing this, you will cultivate the unique habits that work for you, to help you find fulfillment and get and keep your life largely on track. This is not a simple fix. This is the work of a solo sleuth and sometimes you employ an expert to help you.
If you’re patient and curious, you’ll be amazed at what a self-loving journey this can be. Love your emotions. Remember that they are a gift. They’re deeply connected to the active thinker in you and the decisions you make and the ways you live your life.
More on this in the private Facebook Group.
PS. Chronic pain is one giant loop of physiology and emotionality which responds well the relationship between body and emotion are respected. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but feel what you feel (sorry for yourself?) in the moment, as you slow your body way down.