How are you feeling today?
Often, we answer questions about feelings with a response from the head, or a thought. We’ve been so conditioned to value the brain and thinking over our feelings, that often we’re out of touch with the emotions we’re experiencing.
When we’re out of touch with our emotions, afraid of what we feel or in self-judgment about our emotions, they run or limit more of our lives than we may be aware of.
I know because I lived much of my early life unaware of my emotions. I was like a walking head, oblivious to what I was feeling inside. I was the queen of ignoring and suppressing emotions for many years and was confused or embarrassed when I’d suddenly explode or lose it in a situation.
The emotions I was unaware of became wrecking balls when the pressure of them became too great and I’d react and explode, often totally out of proportion to what had happened. I was suffering and didn’t know it.
This way of living created a lot of complexity and unnecessary damage for me and others in my life.
We’re seeing that all around us these days with the many events in the world—unconscious emotions resulting in violence and people acting out. Anger is often a cover emotion, protecting some of our more vulnerable feelings like fear, grief or shame.
While we may think we’re a very logical and head-centred society, those suppressed emotions are running or inhibiting more of our lives than we might recognize. Bringing what’s unconscious to consciousness is possible, and we can learn to make wise use of all of our emotions, even the difficult ones.
I remember the irritation, years ago, when a friend asked me where in my body was I feeling the anger I was expressing. Feeling? In my body? I had no idea. Following my initial irritation, curiosity grew about my emotions and what I was feeling.
Our emotions help us and our bodies move toward self-protective action if needed. They’re primal, unconscious body responses offering us information. The key word there is unconscious; they just happen as we experience the world and our thoughts.
We’ve all been taken out by our emotions at some point in our lives. Powerful emotions can knock out the thinking part of our brains; we may do or say things that are out of character for us.
It can leave us feeling ashamed or embarrassed and, over the long-term, affect our health, relationships, and happiness. Gaining insight into them, learning how to be with them is what’s essential to living a conscious life.
Emotions are energy in motion. The only problem for many of us is, we only let a couple of emotions surface and the rest we suppress, based on our history and what we learned was acceptable in childhood. It’s collective and individual at the same time.
We learn to suppress our emotions until they build and explode out, often looking quite unlike what they started as. I call it “packing the cannon.” And it can take one tiny thing to ignite the fuse of a loaded cannon.
This makes it hard for us to allow the energy of the initial emotion to simply pass through and let us know what’s going on inside. But the energy has to go somewhere.
So, what to do? I believe being human should come with an instruction manual.
Researchers reveal emotions will only last 60 to 90 second unless we suppress them or feed them with a thought. They may return but they’ll come back with less intensity if we learn to allow the energy of the emotion to move. Learning to soften and breathe when we’re experiencing a powerful emotion is much more helpful than locking-down on the feeling.
The goal is to be aware of and experience our emotions and feelings, but not be run by them, using our emotions for the information they give us to make wise, conscious decisions that incorporate the heart and the head. We do this by learning pause and breathe deeply and slowly at least three times, without judgment, becoming gently curious about what we’re feeling in our bodies.
This simple act helps dissipate the intensity of the emotion and invites the thinking part of our brains back on-line.
With practice, we can learn to no longer suppress our emotions, or paint them over the world when we explode. We can learn to curiously and compassionately turn toward what we’re experiencing and instead of suppressing or judging them, or simply reacting, allowing the feelings to lose their intensity and receive their wisdom.
When we do this, we learn to live a more conscious life.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.