Saturday, June 28, 2014

Help! I Have Intense Emotions!

Feelings are like children:  You don't want them driving the car, but you don't want to stuff them in the trunk either. (Quote from the movie "Thanks for Sharing")

Most of us have been conditioned by our environment that having positive emotions means success, and having negative emotions means failure.  However, both positive and negative emotions are a normal and desirable part of life.  Like children, they can be unpredictable.  Just the same, they can be brutally honest and teach us about ourselves.  Unlike rational thought, the experience of feelings is often non-linear, it can feel like a spiral or circle, or an endless loop.  This can be a challenging experience.

Some emotions can create an intense experience.  Feelings such as anger and fear can leave us with the perceived notion of feeling overwhelmed or out of control. When faced with such intense feelings, we may often feel compelled to stuff them away and supress them. We may have been taught not to listen to, show, or express our feelings.  Most of us believe we shouldn't have negative or challenging emotions or that if we allow ourselves to have them, we may lose control and something "terrible" might happen.  So when we are faced with a difficult situation in our life, we may feel upset or angry, and tell ourselves that we shouldn't be feeling this way.  Our habitual response may be to stuff those emotions in the trunk of our car.  But what happens? The stuffed away emotions start knocking, screaming, and expressing their discontent at being in the trunk.  So we try to block out the noise.  In real life, this manifests as numbing out: by staying busy and filling our lives with escapes, pursuing addictions and distractions such as overworking, substances, food, shopping, sex, getting in and out of relationships, or other impulsive behaviors.  This can give us the false illusion that the emotion has gone away.  This may work...temporarily.

What's the true "fix" for intense emotions?  Some musings and food for thought:

  • There is no need for a "fix".  Emotions are merely experiences that are temporary.  Usually they can teach us some important insight about ourselves.  
  • It's important to accept there is nothing wrong with having emotions: being afraid, angry, upset, surprised, disgusted, being happy, being excited.
  • Try not to get caught up in what your emotions mean about other people, but rather what they mean about yourself.
  • If you have a tendency to stuff your emotions in the trunk of your car, play with the notion of putting them in the back seat instead.  Check on them in the rearview mirror - acknowledge that they're there, talk to them every once in a while.  Maybe listen to what they have to say.
  • Letting go of the success/failure duality of emotions opens up amazing freedom.  Emotions just "are", without being good or bad, until we tell ourselves a story about what they mean, could be, or should be.
  • Don't be scared of emotions, just ride the wave.  They are temporary.