Emotions. We have them, we want them, we suffer from them. Like so many things in life, it is not always easy to control them. And maybe that isn’t so import or good?
Emotions in our society
Over the past years ideas and requirements regarding emotions have changed. While not too long ago boys where expected to be strong and have their emotions under control, todays men are required to show emotions – but not too much. Women are allowed to cry – but should not be too dramatic. And if they want to advance their career women should learn to hide their emotions and act “like a man”. These and many more conflicting ideas and expectations about emotions unsettle many people. Emotions and their expressions get judged very easily. Our everyday vocabulary is full of it: sissy, wimp, drama queen, bitch, etc. Many people feel overwhelmed by strong emotions and try to hide or suppress them and often fail at it.
Benefits and possible actions
One solution could be, that emotions are good and important. From an evolutionary perspective they definitely are. Strong feelings, like fear for example, inform us about potential dangers. They indicate that something is wrong, that we should be careful or flee. As much as those emotions can be useful, they tend to appear today in situations in which they are not fully appropriate or necessary. Emotions are good and important, but should be consumed with 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 emotions? Often feelings are something that is not fully under our control but more like something that happens more or less suddenly and can overwhelm us.
So what should we do when emotions overwhelm us? Suppress them? Live them or act them out? What would be the middle way and would that be better?
Emotions and mindfulness
What those questions show more than anything else is our wish to act, to do something. We are raised and our brains are tuned to action. But who says that is how it has to be? Why do we always have to do or change something?
How about we start by accepting (strong) emotions. Look at them, accept them and experience them? Try to very consciously perceive whatever is going on in our body and mind. Which thoughts, which body sensations are connected to that feeling? What emotion is it precisely? What triggered it? Through mindful observation we can put some distance between ourselves and the feeling. We experience them, they are (for now) part of us, but we are more than that emotion and we are not helplessly at its mercy.
This process can contribute to a better understanding (and endurance) of emotions. Without suppressing them or trying to stop them, but simply through value-free observation and description. This is not an easy task for most at first, but it is something that can be learned. It is often helpful to write it down, in a diary or an emotions logbook – alone or as part of a psychological consultation.