Emotions are not the problem, trying not to feel them is.
These days we are all hearing a lot more about emotions and related terms like emotional intelligence, and emotional agility on the internet.
Many great researchers in the field of mental health are bringing the focus back to this major aspect of the human experience. But why have people been talking so much about emotions lately? Don’t we all experience them naturally? Don’t we all know what they are?
Well, the talk has been going on for a reason. We are a society that is immensely struggling with emotions and consequently with severe mental distress. It is not just men who are finding it hard to ‘feel’ and it is also not only because of gender biases and differences in expectations. There is more to it.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we have learned to perceive emotions. I have observed that the perception of emotions as weak and unhelpful is quite universal, no matter the country, culture, or ethnicity. I am curious to know where it all began. When did humans start going against their own nature? Why did we develop such aversion to feeling? I am not quite sure why and when such a natural human experience got misinterpreted as unhealthy, weak and a waste of time. However, I have observed my own life and heard stories of people around me to know more about why we all grew up as wanna-be robots. The answer lies in the way we have been raised, and the way our parents and their parents were raised. There are some messages that we all receive about emotions and ‘feelings’ that are to be blamed.
“Don’t cry”; that’s usually the first and the most influential message that we receive as a child. Oftentimes a kid as young as three years old starts receiving that message. This statement is a loud message with an underlying irrational, and unhelpful should. You should not express your sadness because “You are strong” is another standard message that we hear growing up. There is no harm in raising a strong child but resilience doesn’t look like suppression. There is harm if we are taught and expected to only be strong, ignoring the pain that we feel.
In my view, this aversion to feeling and experiencing all of the difficult emotions comes from a belief that when you allow yourself to feel an emotion, you lose yourself in it. The fear that you will lose your logic, practicality, and cognitive skills as you sit with that emotion. The overwhelm will take over you, hijack you, and leave you weak and incapable. However, it is actually the opposite. Because of this belief, we learn to push it all in. Every discomforting feeling, all of the unacknowledged, unattended, unaccepted pain is suppressed down in the hidden corners. These hidden corners become so full after a certain point that the pain starts to spill over into all aspects of one’s life. The conditioning still does not allow us to see it as what it is; unacknowledged, underlying pain and hurt. The more we resist it, the more it grows and manifests into physical diseases and psychological issues.
Had we allowed ourselves to sit with it, to feel it, to enquire about it, the pain would have had the space to inform us about our deepest desires, our scariest fears, to transform our lives for the better. If only we were told, “talk to your pain, it is a messenger, don’t shoo it away, don’t curse it, talk to it, ask why you are here, when did you arrive, where did you come from, what do you want”. Had we learned how to hold space for something as natural as an emotion, a feeling, we would be a lot less helpless. Evidently, we aren’t doing that well as a society by worshiping cognition to an extent where emotions have no space. We are walking zombies, but we aren’t dead. We are all carrying it inside, continuously exhausting ourselves, spending all our precious energy pushing things down, the energy we need to create and live. We all know something is not quite right, but we are still trying to ‘think’ our way through it. Being able to feel is a specialty of being a human. We started going against our nature, and therefore the mess, the chaos within all of us.
We are all scared to feel, afraid to go into the darkness of discomfort; “What if it engulfs us? what if we stay there?” Not realizing that it is the fear of feeling that is keeping us, hostage, it is the unfelt emotions that are keeping us in the same rotted space. Emotions are to be felt, they are different states which can’t be permanent. If we allow ourselves to feel, it passes away and the next emotion takes its place. But when we keep it captured in places inside us, it grows and stays more than it needs to. Let's learn to feel and release, let us learn to stop being partial humans, and let us stop forcing ourselves to not feel.
Leave a comment about your relationship with emotions, and the messages that you have received about emotions growing up.