I was raised in a home where the phrase “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” was repeated with great frequency. While I’m sure that it was helpful for keeping a peaceful atmosphere among a family of eight, it did little to model, support and develop emotional health.
We are emotional creatures. Defining our emotions as good or bad and limiting the expression of them is a huge health problem. Our beliefs, thoughts and emotions all emit chemicals within our bodies that dramatically affect our physical functions. We can’t be fully healthy without addressing our emotions.
As a society, our models and expectations aren’t much healthier. Children are punished for expressing their emotions at home, in social settings and at school, as opposed to being encouraged to understand, explore, process and express them in healthy ways. Adults are often restricted in similar ways in work environments where anything other than a narrow range of emotions is viewed as unprofessional.
Emotions aren’t necessarily good, bad, inappropriate or unprofessional. How we express them can be, but few people develop the ability to understand and process their emotions, let alone learn to express them in a healthy way! And while the stigma around mental health services such as counseling are lifting, we are just scratching the surface of what might be possible.
For the past six weeks my life has been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve experienced fear, stress, worry, panic, frustration, anger, irritation, sadness, gratitude, awe, pride, hope, and so much more. The words we use for emotions fall short in expressing the range and depth of what I’ve felt.
I am often feeling multiple emotions simultaneously – gratitude and irritation, hope and anger… on and on it goes. I’ve worked hard to let it all flow, not judge my feelings as good or bad, retreat when I need to be alone to think, reach out for support when I need to talk, process or confirm my feelings, and just be the emotional being that I am.
I am sure that this is the best I’ve ever done feeling and allowing my emotions to flow. It feels amazingly healthy and freeing, even when the emotions themselves don’t feel so good. I’m proud and incredibly grateful for breaking old patterns and allowing my emotions to unfold. I’m finding that, as I let them flow, the discomfort of irritability and similar emotions passes much more quickly. Gratitude and hope return faster and stronger, and my body feels more open, healthy and strong.
Our bodies are complicated and depression, anxiety, addiction and other health issues are very real and multi-faceted. By no means am I trying to make light of these serious issues; but I have to wonder how they might be connected to our societal habits and expectations. And I have no doubt that the health of all our bodies could improve if we developed healthier emotional practices.
Emotions can create both discomfort and pure bliss. The world is a beautiful, messy place. All of it is a gift. My personal experience has been that suppressing anything uncomfortable also suppresses the more joyful emotions. This limits our ability to truly feel what love, joy, elation and excitement can bring into our lives, creating flatness or an inability to feel in its place. This is the most unsatisfying and risky place to be.
If our lives were steady and always blissful, it’s likely we wouldn’t recognize how blessed we truly are.