“The more open we are to our emotions, the more skilled we will be in reading those of others”.
Surely after writing your motivation letter, there were unexpected encounters with your emotions, with your values, with your beliefs, with your desires. Realizing and accepting emotions is not always easy. Most probably in that same letter, you noticed a few defense mechanisms in action. Perhaps, they were present in the form of excuses, the repression of some thoughts, or blame towards others. Emotions can hurt, and therefore it is usually the last thing we want to pay attention to or the first thing we want to control. So, as a result, to protect us from emotionally difficult situations we prefer to use the unconscious side of our brain.
As a person who can experience high sensitivity, living my emotions sometimes feels like a pressure cooker. If I don’t let myself express, emotions build up inside me as a steaming pressure until reaches its peak. But how could I’ve learned to behave differently? Culturally we have been taught little or nothing to live our emotions healthily. To begin with, we are used to defining our emotions as if they are a definition of ourselves. We express I am unhappy, I am fearful, I am very angry, I am an anxious person, I am fine. However, we are not an emotion. Emotions are not our identity. Emotions come and go. Learning to describe them as what they are will help us to better capture their essence. Feeling an emotion is part of living. It is neither bad nor good. They have a specific purpose. Expressions like: “Today, I felt happy,” “that makes me feel sad,” “I felt anxious when I heard,” “I felt pleased to hear…,” “I felt fear when…,” to me, state more clearly what happens inside us at a given moment.
Yet, there is a big step in feeling an emotion and wanting to recognize it. We are so involved in rationalizing and classifying emotions. They are judged either as negative or positive. The former is punished and the latter is celebrated. We prefer to hide them, rationalize them, replace them with a “better one”, deny them, or minimize them. Honestly, which one of those possibilities I haven’t tried? All!
As a child, when I felt sadness or insecurity either at home or school, I isolated myself. Many times, I reserved to celebrate my achievements when I perceived bothering others. Sometimes when I felt overwhelmed at work, I just swallowed my anger. The frustration of not speaking “perfectly” a foreign language made me be silent many times. Those are just a few, but isn’t it unbelievable the explanations we give to ourselves to minimize our feelings, when in reality the emotions are still trapped within us? How come emotions stay attached to situations in life for years, and we don’t know why we feel them?
I believe one of the main reasons is that emotional display is not always welcome. And when the “not welcome” message is repetitive, it becomes a learned pattern. How many of us haven’t heard at least once, one of the below phrases?
Don’t cry anymore because dad is going to get angry
Don’t yell, you are not a little boy anymore
Shut up, your laughs bother
You’re always angry
You are too sensitive, you take everything to heart
Calm down, and I buy you a toy
I’m fine! It doesn’t matter
Stop saying nonsense
When can we express our emotions freely? When were we taught to respect the moment and make room for our feelings or those of others to go out and be accepted?
When I arrived at my coaching lectures, I realized I had already accumulated a lot of unspoken emotions. Throughout the process of accompaniment, acceptance, and love they began to surface. Suddenly, emotions of childhood appeared. Later, some of the adolescence too. Some emotions about my love life and a few more of my professional life couldn’t stay behind, and appeared right after. Every day a different piece began to part from the jigsaw puzzle I thought I had very well-assembled.
The work I did then, provided me with valuable knowledge about emotions which help me now. Below are seven teachings I took away with me, which I would like to share with you.
• The first and most difficult teaching for me to accept was that emotions need to be expressed, and there is no real control over them. Even those we judge as negative ones. We may believe they can be controlled but it is never like that, whether we like it or not. Emotions express themselves in any language. Be it verbal communication or non-verbal communication. Through crying or laughing. Body language, change of mood, body temperature, the appearance of some disease, skin problems, and the list continues. Isolation or closeness, addiction or sublimation, reactions or inactions, emotions express themselves in many ways.
• The second teaching was that as I judge my emotions, I build beliefs and therefore MY reality. As all those kept emotions began to flow, I began to recognize the judgments I had upon them. For example, crying in front of others caused me shame and feeling vulnerable. The belief built from there was: If they see me crying, what perception am I putting in their heads? They will surely treatment me as the victim, the helpless, the weak. Therefore, crying in front of others was shameful, and I had to avoid it by all means. My followed actions were either pretend control, running away or covering my face.
• Third teaching encouraged me to question myself, what power do I have on the judgments others make about me when expressing my emotions. None! What power do I have over the judgments I impose on my emotions? All! Why should I categorize any emotion into negative or positive? Why do I think some emotions are valid and others not? I learned emotions have their function. Understanding why they happen and where they come from helps me to liberate them from judgement.
• Fourth. For the first time, I realized that my emotions are linked to my values. This realization gave me a chance to remove negative judgments that I hanged upon some emotional expressions. For example, crying when someone else’s story excites me speaks of my empathy and compassion for others. The anger that rises in me when I perceive tyranny towards me or another living being speaks of my sense of justice, equality, and respect. The stress I feel about delivering a task on time speaks of my sense of commitment. The sadness that happens when I feel used speaks of my sense of loyalty and honesty. The happiness I feel to learn and experience new things speaks of my love of learning. The frustration that follows when I procrastinate has its roots in how I appreciate efficiency and contribution. The anxiety caused by feeling exposed or ignorant says a lot about my sense of responsibility and quality.
• Fifth teaching is the possibility of knowing in which part of the body our emotions hide. If we pay attention to them, they give us very clear information about why we are experiencing “x” pain, stiffness or disease. On one occasion, at the end of an exercise, the coach asked one of my classmates, who was very moved, about what she was feeling. She initially tried to calm down and avoid the moment, however, the coach invited her to let it flow. He asked: in which part of the body do you feel your emotion? Does it have a form? How does it look like? does it have a color? How would you describe it? Could you express it as a flavor? That moment was as if they pressed the “on” button to my inner focus. It reminded me of the times I said in the past “I don’t even know what I feel.” How absurd that sounds now! My body lets me know all the time! What about the headache after a stressful workday and the stomachache after having a heated discussion? What about the sweat when feeling anxiety, chest pressure when feeling fear, or a sore throat when resigning to an opinion? This awareness led me to the next point.
• Sixth, our emotions usually have a pattern. For example, I have realized that the emotions of love and happiness are about my family life and my contact with nature. The interaction I have with my children and my husband on a day of hiking or cycling through the forest fills me with joy and peace. The emotions of satisfaction and pride go in the direction of my ability to serve, learn and achieve goals. The emotions of frustration and discourage are related to my failure to communicate, to socialize, to collaborate, to express. The latter making total sense when I cry for such frustration I feel like a ball is in my throat. Besides, connecting such prolonged kept emotion with my thyroid condition. Other patterns we may observe are on those close to us. You may identify them in your parents, children, and partner. The actions that follow when expressing their emotions, you can detect a reflection in you. That is, if you feel anger at a specific person you may become verbally or physically aggressive; If you feel sadness and emptiness, you may turn to food to fulfill yourself; if you feel stuck and bored, your use of social networks may increase because it entertains you to observe someone else’s mobility.
• Seven. It can happen that the emotions you are carrying are not yours. I definitely identify with this one! Having the ease of perceiving emotions in others, I notice that unconsciously during this process I absorbed the emotions of other classmates. The emotional load that I felt some days gave me to reflect on past occasions, and I recognized that I can catch them like a magnet. Looking back now and noticing what happened before my emotion arose allows me to realize that it is not mine and take charge of cleaning that energy from my body. Depending on the time or place, I can cry, run, dance, meditate, visualize or pray. But there are many other ways I learned there, such as reiki, energy alignment, biodanza, alba emoting and the movement’s provisions to name a few. The important thing is to be aware of not storing conflicting emotions and getting them out of our mind, body, and spirit as soon as possible.
Based on the above, I can say I have taken into my process the first step. That is, I now recognize the importance of decoding the message that lies beneath the surface of emotions. Connecting where they come from, and their transmitted message helps me to open the way to acceptance. Moreover, allows me to recognize almost immediately if guilt and judgment begin to emerge. Knowing what happens behind an emotion prepares me somehow to react, redirect, avoid, or promote situations that give me more pleasure and reassurance. As they appear, they put my inner wisdom into practice, even in situations where I wouldn’t like to. However, I think knowing the language of emotions is individual work. Therefore, if you are ready to dig in, and learn it will become your guide through life. It will show you where you have to focus, what is important to you, and in which area you have work to do. In a way, it provides you with new power. You slowly start to feel lighter, and knowledgeable when facing the moments that made you feel once heavy and overwhelmed.
Decode the emotion
Once again, we practice the brain-emotion connection and reflect through writing. What emotions am I aware that I experience? Which of these emotions visits me most frequently? Which ones do I interpret as positive or negative? Widely describe the situations that happen and what makes you classify them that way. Which emotion causes me discomfort? Where does that emotion unleash? What is it associated with? Is there any thought, person, place, or goal that you have decided not to pay attention because they cannot be changed or is it out of your reach? What is happening or not in your life which inhabits the emotion? When, where or with whom do you feel sad, happy, anxious, frustrated, worried, fearful, excited? Any pattern you can notice?
Observe your body
At the moment you feel an emotion, be attentive to your body. Where do you feel it? how does it look like? does it have a color? how would you describe it? do you sense a specific taste?
Linking emotion to values technique
Identify your emotions, and find their relationship with your 5-10 main values. This technique gives the opportunity not only to understand where emotions come from but to stop criticizing them and understand their message.
Breathing, meditation, and visualization.
Three techniques that promote calm.
• Breathing can bring you back to your state of peace in a turbulent moment. Oxygenates your brain, and allows you to think more clearly.
• Five minutes of meditation can guide you to identify the place in your body where the emotion hides. It allows the emotion to flow without added thoughts. Sitting in a silent moment makes us more receptive to the answers that are shown. Also, it is a moment of total gratitude where the spirit, body, mind, and emotions are harmonized.
• I experienced visualization for the first time in my coaching sessions and it was amazing. Through visualization, we use the power of our imagination. Invite the emotions you would like to feel, and say goodbye to those you want to let go of. My perception of visualizing emotions is that I can explore their feeling and balance their intensity instead of evading them.