Recently I was asked, “How do normal people deal with their emotions?”
The first thing I noticed was their use of the word “normal,” because I know, as you probably do too, that there’s no such thing as “normal.” Each person is absolutely unique and there is no norm.
But rather than chiding this person for using the word “normal,” it’s more important to understand the silent fear and self-judgment that their word choice reveals:
- That they think they’re “abnormal” because they’re having trouble dealing with their emotions.
- That there’s a “right” way to do it and they’re f***ing up because they haven’t found it.
- That meanwhile there are other “normal” people who have it all together.
I’ll tell you, as I told this person who asked the question, that the typical human in 2017 doesn’t deal with their emotions well at all, IMO. At best, the typical human is merely coping – often by swallowing how they feel until those feelings come spewing out in one ugly, barf-like tantrum or breakdown.
So how can you avoid the tantrum and the breakdown? Sometimes, honestly, you can’t – let’s start with that.
Let’s start with acknowledging that you have been doing the best that you can do, and even as you strive to do better, sometimes you won’t do better, and that’s OK.
(That’s good life philosophy all around, dontcha think?)
Meanwhile, there are some people who have learned to handle emotions at least a little better. I like to think I’m one of them, and I can share with you 3 things that work for me when I get it right:
1. Giving myself permission to feel whatever I’m feeling. I’m listing this one first because it’s the hardest but most important part. Most of us were conditioned that some emotions shouldn’t be felt – “Don’t be upset,” “Don’t cry, ” “Smile!” – and you might still be living with that conditioning today. But here’s what I’ve learned through my training and my own personal journey:
Every part of the human experience is valid. Emphasis on the word EVERY.
Your soul didn’t come to this life to say “I’m only going to experience the ‘good’ half.” Because there is no “good half” – it’s ALL good.
Don’t live half a life by only letting yourself experience what makes the people around you comfortable. Screw them – you do you.
2. Naming my feelings. Not like “Bob” and “Youssef” (LOL) but identifying each emotion by what it’s called: “I feel angry.” “I feel disappointed.”
I’m not surprised to discover how many people have a problem with this, because in a culture that conditions people to be ashamed of feelings, we’re definitely not calling them by name.
If you need a little help putting a name to what you’re feeling, here’s one resource that I frequently suggest to my clients: the Emotional Scale that’s presented in Ask and It Is Given by Esther & Jerry Hicks:
- Positive Expectation/Belief
There are several applications for this scale, but right now the important one is how it gives you the names of about 30 different emotions in one place. Keep this list handy – maybe bookmark this post on your phone? – so that when you need to, you can whip it out and ask yourself, “Which of these am I feeling?”
3. Actually feeling my feelings. I still remember one of the most powerfully healing experiences I’ve ever had in my personal journey. I was pissed at my husband for something; it was probably trivial but I had made it a whole thing and was arguing with him in my head, because he had already left for work.
Suddenly, I stopped what was doing and yelled out loud, “I am angry!!” (Yelling isn’t always the best answer, but sometimes that’s what it takes.) I shouted it several times, then I let the feeling of that anger wash over me until my body literally shook.
For a moment, I felt like I was going to die.
But here’s the crazy thing that happened next: I didn’t die, of course. And after barely a minute, the feeling naturally faded away. I didn’t have to choke it back down – it just left, By embodying that anger, I had created a path through which it could be released.
This is a great moment to note that another word for “release” is “express.” The language we use for emotions – that we “express” them – tells us that someone, at some time, knew that the proper way to experience emotions was to let them out.
But that’s not what we’re taught. The typical human mind is conditioned to believe that if it fully feels a feeling, the experience will be painful, perhaps even lead to death. How that belief got in there is, one person expressing feelings makes others around them feel uncomfortable, and those others might respond by rejecting or abandoning that person, such as through criticism or scolding. And even in 2017, the primal subconscious mind equates rejection and abandonment with being kicked out of the tribe and left for dead.
Connect those dots: Feelings emotions => rejection and abandonment => dead. No wonder the typical person avoids their emotions, because there is nothing more powerful then the fear of death.
My advice to you here in #3 is that you build a habit of honoring your feelings by stopping all action, all talking, and all thoughts and simply let yourself feel until the feeling passes – because it will. Especially if you try for a moment not to “do” anything with the feeling – just feel it.
In the same breath, I’m acknowledging that this advice probably feels weird and scary, especially to your primal instincts that crave acceptance as a form of security.
But I’m also telling you that if you overcome that fear and give yourself the opportunity to do this just once – even if that first time has to be when you’re at home or in your car or wherever you get to be alone – you will never again be a person who is satisfied to swallow your feelings.
And THAT will create huge progress on your personal and spiritual journey.
In Loving Service,