“Come on, don’t be a sissy.” “Stop crying!” “Shake it off and move on.”
Society constantly teaches us to suppress our emotions, especially if they are negative in nature. You’ve probably noticed that being emotional is treated as an undesirable quality, particularly if you’re a man. The old saying, “boys don’t cry,” reflects this taboo.
The truth is, many people come to believe emotion is a troublemaker, and avoiding it is the best way to fend off drama. As we grow older, we learn to cope with our fear, sadness, anger, disappointment, and other emotions that have been labelled as negative, by ignoring them, shaking them off, bottling them up, judging them, or numbing ourselves to them.
But Is It Working?
Most of us have trained long and hard to master the art of suppressing our negative emotions. We push them down, neglect them, and try to forget them in hopes they won’t bother us anymore.
Have we really gotten rid of them?
I think not. In my experience as a therapist, I have never met someone who could solve their problems or heal from woundedness by suppressing their emotions. Here’s why society’s method of dealing with emotions doesn’t work.
The Cost of Ignoring Our Emotions
Eventually, we will be faced with something that doesn’t sit well with us, and we’ll be forced to wrestle with new emotions. Or, new problems will bring to the surface some buried emotions from the past. The more life throws at us, the more we will have to stuff down.
As we pay close attention, we notice that as we become numb to our negative emotions, we also lose touch with our positive emotions. As a result, our life feels quite dry, dull, and emotionless.
In other cases, the struggle to contain and numb ourselves to our emotions becomes too overwhelming. This results in one of three things: we explode, we close up, or we simply lose touch with ourselves.
What we have to recognize here is that emotion itself is not the problem. It is how we attend to our emotion that can become problematic.
How to Befriend Your Emotions
It may seem ironic, but negative emotions don’t lose their power over our well-being until we let them come to the surface and hold them in our awareness.
So, the next time you experience uneasy emotions, try this: invite your emotions to your awareness and see what they’re trying to say. The following are steps you can practise to begin to befriend your emotions and actually benefit from them:
- When emotion arises, invite it in and allow it to express itself (let your sadness be sad, let your happiness be happy, etc.)
- Listen to understand your emotion without judging or censoring
- Let it come and go, or stay with you as long as it needs
- Be a comforting presence for it
- Observe how it evolves
- Know that you are not your emotion. You are one who invites your emotion to be in your warm presence
One of the common misconceptions we have about our emotion is that difficult emotions are permanent and never change their nature. The truth is, emotion is never static. Emotion comes and goes and it evolves depending on how it is attended. What’s the benefit of attending to your emotion, then? Your raw, intense emotion will shrink and soften as you befriend it.
Bonnie Kim is a Registered Psychotherapist at Tyndale Family Life Centre. Bonnie has always taken a special interest in working with teens, young adults, and young couples, helping them to be deeply rooted in who they are and fully confident in their ability to cultivate healthy relationships and lifestyles. Ultimately, Bonnie desires to help people be restored as the people who God created them to be. Bonnie Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Francis is a freelance writer and contributor at the Family Life Centre blog. www.amyhopefrancis.com