Updated: Jul 6
It is always okay to feel your feelings!
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The big E word, Emotion. To some, it is a wonderful word that helps humans express their love, joy, sadness, and even anger freely in a healthy way, giving them an opportunity to have meaningful and intimate relationships. To others, emotions are a form of weakness that slows them down and causes feelings they do not want to experience.
Whatever your take on emotions, they are a part of life, and today we are going to explore what they are, where they come from, and how to experience them in a way that feels safe and supportive to you.
I could give you the dictionary definition of emotion, but there is no consensus between various schools of thought, so let’s go to our own experiences and understand them for ourselves. Understanding something from your own experience means it came from you. When understanding comes from you, it has more power to it because you recognize that wisdom is within you, not someone else.
The same goes for your emotions. They are yours to feel and use, which allows you to have a unique experience as a human being. Consider the last time you felt an emotion. I understand that for some of you, that may have been a while back because you don’t easily feel emotions; we will talk about that in a bit. But try to remember any emotion, whether it is happy or sad. When you feel that emotion, just notice what happens. Go ahead and try it...
If nothing happened, don’t worry, we are going to go through a process here together, so just follow along and see what happens along the way. If you did feel something, just notice the word we have already used to describe it – feel. You feel your emotions. Sometimes emotions are referred to as feelings.
Often you feel your emotions as some form of sensation in the physical body. Interestingly enough, a colleague of mine told me about a worldwide study that was done that showed how universally we all feel each emotion in the same part of our bodies regardless of country, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or upbringing. What I take from it is that every one of us humans on this planet shares the experience of feeling emotions. What a great way to view your neighbors near and far. With this commonality of understanding, we all experience happiness and sadness. We can relate to each other in this way.
Having said that, I have done my own experiment with feeling emotions in my body and came to some interesting results. At one point in time, I felt sadness in the pit of my stomach, and at a different time, I felt it in my throat. So perhaps science has a bit more research to do, but just consider for yourself and perhaps even do your own experiment to determine where you feel your emotions in your body.
From a therapeutic perspective, feeling our emotions instead of repressing them is integral to our mental/emotional health. It is being unwilling or unable to feel our feelings that cause us to utilize unhealthy measures to block or repress those feelings.
Many times, there is a reason behind not wanting to feel our emotions. This is often related to a fear of being out of control because the emotions were triggered when we felt out of control. There is also the fear that once we open the floodgates of feeling these emotions, we will not be able to stop them, causing us to be unable to function in life.
For example, someone experiences a traumatic event in which they shut down their feelings to make it through the experience. This traumatic event can be as big as being in the middle of a war or being physically, mentally/emotionally, or sexually assaulted. But the “big” events are not the only ones that cause us to shut down emotionally. We are affected by even the “small” ones like a child feeling shame when they asked for a second scoop of ice cream and their caretaker told them they would get fat if they ate more. That child then either eats to avoid feeling the emotions or stops eating things they think will make them fat in order to avoid feeling the past shame.
We all have feelings we do not want to feel, but when we shut down from feeling the ones we do not like, we also train ourselves not to feel, period, which means we miss the good ones as well.
It is always okay to feel your feelings. Difficulties arise when you begin to have feelings about your feelings!
To understand this, let's explore what initiates these feelings. The sensations which you may be able to feel in your body when you are feeling an emotion are typically associated with some past event that caused you pleasure or pain.
What that means is that emotions arise when something happens in our life, like the past traumatic event examples, that we then interpret in a specific way. These events then cause a sensation we feel in the body that is then mentally associated with this feeling. That’s a lot of words, so let's break it down for simplicity.
Emotions are past mental interpretations that we feel physically in the body.
That means that our thoughts, which are our mental interpretations of ourselves and the world, can be experienced in the physical body. Have you ever noticed that when you or someone else are having angry thoughts, their body turns red in places? Or someone who has been sad for a while physically looks depleted? When we are depressed, we either stop eating or eat too much to cover the feelings.
Your thoughts are stored in your physical body and affect the function of your body. That redness that happens when someone is angry is a result of inflammation. The more anger added to that person's life, the more inflammation they may experience, which can then lead to inflammatory health problems.
These physically stored thoughts were established during past experiences. What that means is that your emotional reactions are based on experiences that happened in the past under completely different circumstances than are happening now. Your body is an actual blueprint for your past thoughts and emotions.
Hormones also play a major role in triggering emotions. They send chemical messages throughout your body and affect how your body functions and how you feel. When your body releases specific hormones, you will either feel good or bad depending on how you mentally interpret the sensations you are feeling. As we have discussed, this is based on your past experiences.
A typical approach to managing emotions through hormones is to facilitate the release of what are often called feel-good hormones. Dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. And to balance other hormones such as serotonin, cortisol, adrenaline, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
Here’s where you may be asking. “How do I regulate my hormones?” To which I would answer, “There are as many options to regulating hormones as there are mental/emotional states.” Here are some at the top of my list.
Meditation and Yoga
Eating a healthy and balanced diet
Integrating your emotions
Use the Triple A's to explore, release, and integrate your emotions!
Let’s explore what you have discovered for yourself so far. You experience emotion as felt sensations in the body. Where did these emotional sensations come from? Past mental interpretations of liking something or not liking something at any given moment. When you like something, it leads to physical sensations that feel good in the body. When you do not like something, it leads to physical sensations that do not feel good in the body.
It is important to acknowledge and work through your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable or painful. Ignoring them can lead to the buildup of unprocessed emotions, which can feel like the burning inferno of a molten lava pit inside of you. This can be overwhelming and painful. If you don't deal with those emotions, it's like a volcano waiting to erupt. It's better to take the time to process and work through those emotions before they consume you and everything around you.
Now, let me pause a moment here and repeat emphatically that emotions are not good or bad. Let me say that again. Your emotions are not good or bad. You may prefer the emotion of happiness over sadness, but both are completely normal to human existence. Unless under rare circumstances, the brain does not have the makeup to feel and express them.
Check out this chart from Therapistaid.com to help you recognize your emotions.
You may prefer feeling happy to feeling sad, but both are natural and helpful in your ability to process your thoughts about the world around you. Sadness expressed is love expressed. It is perhaps loss of love, but still love. Sadness not expressed leads to denial of loss and oftentimes turns into anger. Sadness expressed leads to one’s ability to heal.
We can use the emotion of anger to cause harm to ourselves or others. We can also use anger to facilitate positive change in our lives that we may not have done otherwise. It is all a matter of how we use it!
For example, I feel anger when I see a bunch of litter on the beach. I have a choice here. I can either place that anger on the people and world around me, which I am powerless to control. This causes me to hold my anger inside or explode it at someone else I see littering or someone else in the vicinity. Either way, I am the one that experiences the anger and its effects of discomfort in my body.
My other option is to feel the anger so the emotion is processed and expressed in a healthy way. Maybe I let out one of those primordial screams to the sea, or perhaps I let the energy of the emotion guide me over to the trash, pick it up, and then throw it away. This way, I am using the emotion of anger to motivate me to do something positive for the earth and myself. This is because I am using that emotional energy to take action.
Here’s the tricky thing about emotions. Often, we become more comfortable with some of them and not others, so we bypass the emotions we do not like to feel. Or we don’t even recognize them. Anger can hide sadness. This often happens when there is deep grief that someone does not want to feel. They go to anger because they do not want to feel the pain of loss.
When we bypass or do not recognize our emotions, it doesn’t mean they are not still having a mental and physiological effect on us. It simply means we are not allowing ourselves to feel them.
In order to heal it, you have to feel it!
When you allow yourself to feel the emotion, you are giving yourself the great gift of feeling alive! When you mask your emotions with any form of distraction, including other emotions, you are simply feeding that hidden molten lava pit.
One of the greatest gifts of emotion is human connection. When you allow yourself to feel and be vulnerable enough to share those feelings with another you are saying “I trust enough to be open with you”. You are offering yourself the great gift of freedom to be you while demonstrating the power of standing fully in yourself. You then give permission for others to do the same.
Now, remember, this information is only useful to you if you recognize it to be true in your own experience. Check it out for yourself. Begin to notice what flavor you are at any given moment. Investigate where you feel your emotions in the body and what thoughts precede those emotions. Your own personal exploration empowers you to make informed choices on how you develop your own emotional health.
Want to learn to explore your emotions? Join me in using the Triple A’s to Acknowledge, Accept, and Allow your emotions to flow!
In Loving Service,