Every emotion has a purpose… much like other functions of the body (like breathing and blinking). Yet we often fight and try to rid ourselves of “negative” emotions, like scared, angry and sad. I have worked with many clients over the years who were afraid of their feelings; of their power and a notion that they were never going to be able to get past the feeling.
Any time that we avoid something our of fear, the act of avoidance itself makes the “thing” more powerful. So like anything else, if we avoid our feelings we learn firstly that they are something to be afraid of and secondly that if we avoid them and “nothing bad happens” it further enhances our belief that it was right to avoid those feelings in the first place. But let me tell you, neither of those things are helpful in the long term and can actually exacerbate stress and minimise the belief in yourself that you can manage your distress.
So why do people avoid emotions in the first place?
At times emotions can feel uncomfortable, arbitrary and we feel like we cannot control them. I prefer the term regulate, than control… and in order to help regulate our emotions we need to understand them…So what purpose do emotions serve?
Being scared can feel overwhelming, intense and can result in lots of physical symptoms (sweating, heart racing, dry mouth, sore tummy, nausea etc). So what purpose does scared serve? Why would our bodies need to feel this way?
This is a very simplified explanation… and it’s not the only one…but essentially being scared is all about survival. If we didn’t feel scared we wouldn’t or couldn’t take measures to protect ourselves. We have a a whole section of our brains dedicated to seeking out threats in our environment and letting us know. So scared is adaptive. It helps keep us safe. The only issue is when we attribute “safe” stimulus as being dangerous… but that is a whole other topic for another time. So next time you feel scared, listen to your body, reflect and try and figure out what your body has recognised as a threat so you can look after yourself.
We often think about anger as being out of control or equate anger to violence. But that is confusing anger and aggression. Anger is the emotion, aggression is the response. So why do we need anger at all?
In a very short and simplified explanation anger (the emotion) can be healthy and adaptive… if we tap into what is making us angry and why.
Usually anger arises because something has pushed our boundaries and/or values. These are two very important aspects of our sense of self and our expectations of ourselves, others and the world.
So firstly making a distinction that anger isn’t aggression is important… and secondly listening to your internal dialogue. Anger tells you what is important to you and is another way of protecting yourself (whether or be emotionally or psychologically). Anger serves to tell us what is right and wrong for us (as a person), helps us understand where our personal boundaries are to keep us safe, get our needs met and helps protect our values, moras and beliefs. Just remember that anger in itself is not good or bad… it just is! And be mindful about how you are going to express your needs… which is always a choice.
Sadness can be inhibiting. We can become fearful of loss and distress…so we can lose some of the vibrancy and depth in our worlds. So why does sadness exist?
Firstly it is important to know that feelings aren’t arbitrary. They exist in response to stimulus in our environment like every other bodily function (digestion, blinking, etc). And although we often pinpoint what has made us sad, the value of this emotion is often overlooked because of the enormity and intensity of the feeling itself.
Sadness is similar to anger in a way. It’s our bodies way of not only telling us what is important to us (like and anger)… but it also gives us valuable information about how MUCH something means to us… in other words the depth of our feelings. This can be a self validating and normalising way to think about sadness. We feel (at times) incredibly sad because of the value we place on something… which inherently helps us to heal because we recognise the importance of value of something.
And here is my final comment…a philosophical thought to take away and reflect on… if you didn’t experience sadness… could you truly appreciate the feeling of happiness?
So there you have it…so rationale for why feelings are important, and why its best not avoid them. Let them happen, accept them and accept that you are normal, your feelings are normal and they are ok. I promise that given time a new feeling will take its place, and those negative feelings won't last forever.
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