Emotions are a constant presence in our lives. We all have them, we all want them, and we all sometimes suffer from them. And like so many things in life, it is not always easy to control them. But perhaps that’s not necessarily a bad thing?
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Emotions in our society
Societal attitudes toward emotions have changed over time. While not too long ago, boys were expected to always be strong and have their emotions under control, today’s men are required to show emotions – but please, not too excessively. Women, on the other hand, are allowed to cry – but don’t be overly dramatic. If they want to advance their careers, however, women are expected to hide their emotions and act “like men”.
These and many more contradictions and expectations surrounding emotions can leave many feeling bewildered and confused. We live in a world where expressions of feelings are often judged, and our vocabulary is laden with labels like “sissy,” “wimp,” “drama queen,” or “bitch.” As a result, many people feel overwhelmed by strong emotions and attempt to conceal or suppress them, often without success.
Benefits and possible actions
One possible solution lies in recognising the inherent value of emotions. From an evolutionary perspective, they are undeniably important. Emotions, such as fear, inform us about potential dangers. They indicate that something is wrong, that we should be careful or flee.
While these emotions undoubtedly can be useful, in modern life, they tend to appear in situations where they aren’t entirely appropriate or necessary. Emotions are indeed important, but they should be consumed in moderation, like so many things in life, from alcohol to chocolate and sport. But this is easier said than done. Who feels totally in control of their feelings? Often, feelings are beyond our control, emerging suddenly and overwhelming us.
Emotions and mindfulness
What those questions show more than anything else is our profound inclination to take action, to do something. We’re conditioned to want to fix, change, or address. But who says that’s how it has to be? Why do we always have to do or change something? Is it possible to simply accept our emotions as they come?
What if we started welcoming our (strong) emotions with open arms? By observing them, accepting them, and experiencing them. Try to perceive whatever is happening in our body and mind consciously.
What emotion exactly are we feeling at this moment? Which thoughts and sensations are connected to that feeling? What triggered it? Through mindful observation, we can put some distance between ourselves and the feeling. We experience it, it is part of us, but we are more than just that emotion, and we are not helplessly at its mercy.
This process can contribute to a better understanding (and endurance) of emotions. Without suppressing or trying to stop them, simply through value-free observation and description. While this is not an easy task for most at first, it is something that can be learned. It is often helpful to write it down in a diary or an emotions diary – alone or as part of a psychological consultation.
If you enjoyed this post, you can find many more articles and exercises for dealing with difficult emotions here on my blog. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I regularly share tips and advice on how to handle negative feelings, as well as inside stories from my online counselling practice.
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