Updated: Mar 8
Human beings come with a wide range of emotions. Primary emotions are often the ones we notice first: happy, surprise, anger, fear, sadness, and disgust. Depending on how you navigate those emotions, we tend to lean towards favoring some over others (often the more positive emotions of happiness versus what we consider are negative emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear). If you’ve noticed the rise of society and social media encouraging and promoting a more positive mindset for your well-being, it’s hard not to pay attention to it. All emotions are necessary as these feelings signal something important to us. There are many reasons we avoid certain emotions and feel uncomfortable with expressing or acknowledging them. Emotions can trigger negative experiences (trauma being a common theme) which makes sense why we do many things to not feel those feelings. We learned as young children, which emotions are ok to show others (if you ever notice a toddler having a meltdown, they have likely been told that everything is “ok” and to not be upset). This can create the start of the internal struggle of not understanding why the way we feel in that moment is not ok and we learn to shut it down sooner that we are ready to. This learned behavior follows us throughout our lives as we try to maintain the positive emotions that we feel are ok to share and hide away the other emotions that are not as popular. The reality is that we have these emotions, and those feelings don’t go away when we avoid or distract ourselves from them. This can heighten our internal conflict with confusing thoughts on why we feel the way we do as if something is wrong inside. Learning how to identify our emotions as adults can become even more challenging as we try to navigate how to reach out for support, carrying or holding onto certain emotions within the body (physical stress), or feeling stuck in certain emotions and not being able to move past it. The famous Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung said it best, “What you resist persists.”
So how do we change the narrative on what we know about our emotions to really embrace, accept, and feel our feelings?
The Facts on Emotions
Emotions aren’t permanent. They show up to tell us something important and help us navigate what we need. Emotions will always come and go if we allow them to be present.
Emotions aren’t bad. We all have them, and they are all necessary to express in different areas of our lives and experiences. They can help us connect with others who are also experiencing similar things.
When you suppress a feeling or emotion, it doesn’t go away (only temporarily fixing it).
Your body begins to misinterpret that those emotions are unsafe, which can increase mental health symptoms or issues. Our body is supposed to protect us and when it can’t register what is safe it goes into survival mode, making daily stress unmanageable, increasing shame/guilt/overwhelm, etc.
Think of avoiding or suppressing emotions like a boiling pot on the stove, it will eventually spill over, and not necessarily when you want them to or not appropriate for the situation.
National Library of Medicine Long-term benefits of people who accepted/embraced their negative emotions had greater psychological health and well-being.
Very Well Mind “Toxic Positivity” (always maintaining a positive mindset in every situation) can lead to guilt for being sad/angry, dismissing self/others’ difficult feelings, hiding painful emotions, ignoring your problems, avoids authentic human emotions, and prevents your growth.
Very Well Mind The impact of emotional pain can show up physically: headaches, body pains (muscles, arms/legs, stomach), bowel issues. This impacts us emotionally as well: increased aggression/violence, substance or alcohol use, risky behaviors, eating disorders, self-harm/suicidal thoughts/suicide attempts, or other compulsive behaviors (shopping, gambling, sex, etc.).
How to Start Feeling Your Feelings
Identify the emotion (check out the the Feelings Wheel). Reminder: Your emotion is what you are feeling, you are not the emotion (example: “I am feeling sad versus I am sad”). This can help you understand what you are feeling and what may have triggered that feeling.
Acknowledge your feelings Validate, Validate, Validate! Your feelings are important (well all have them) and the more we work on accepting this the easier it is to embrace without shame, guilt, or avoidance.
Learn to sit with your feelings. This may be hard to do at first but allow yourself to fully feel the emotions that are coming up. It may feel intense at first but overtime you will notice the feeling will eventually pass. You will also start to identify where in your body you are feeling/storing this emotion (ex: tension in shoulders). A great way to practice this is using this helpful coping tool: Urge Surfing
Process and Express your Emotions Once you can identify, validate, and sit with the feeling (knowing where it’s coming up for you in your mind and body), now it's time to express those emotions! Processing and expressing what this feeling means for you can be done in many ways. Some find it helpful to journal, get creative, go outside, listen to music, or share with your support people. If you’re looking for some helpful ideas check out 99 Coping Tools.
Learning how to navigate emotions can feel hard, especially in the beginning, but the more you practice the easier it can become. A Helpful tool is to always check in with yourself (“What do I need in this moment?”)