Do you fear your emotions? Do you see them as threats, or indicators that you are failing in recovery, or destined for disaster? Do you attempt to escape from your emotions or avoid them? You are not alone.
Emotions. Being afraid of emotions. Viewing them as threats, failures in recovery, and indicators of coming disaster. Trying desperately to avoid emotions or escape from them. Not a thing I ever thought I’d be covering on the podcast, but here we are. Thank you to everyone that shares freely on this topic. I learn from you all every day and my hope is that I can take what I learn and turn it into something useful.
Emotions Are A Natural Part of Being Human
Every human being experiences emotions. Some are great. Some really suck. But all are normal and natural. While we may not always like our emotions, we do not have to fear them or see them as disaster. Regardless of what you think about your emotions, if you are reading this right now, then you have handled and navigated every last thing life has ever thrown at you. You have handled them and you are still here. You can handle emotions and emotional waves too! You are capable of this.
Is It The Emotion, Or The Reaction To The Emotion?
While all humans experience emotions, and often don’t like them, not everyone FEARS emotions. Experiencing emotions is not a problem. Being afraid of emotions is a problem. If you see even just feeling some emotions as a failure or a disaster, you have developed this problem. This happens when we lose sight of the emotion itself and its surrounding context. Rather than dealing with the emotion or the situation that triggered it, we tag the emotion as a nightmare, put it aside, then write an entire additional fear-based story about the emotion. We construct elaborate tales detailing what the emotion says about you, what it means, why it proves that you are weak or broken, and how it must indicate that you are failing in recovery and doomed to wind up forever ill, depressed, or stuck.
So is the problem the emotion, or your reaction to the emotion? Are you dealing with your emotions, or are you really dealing with the judgements and stories you add to your emotions? It’s very important to see the difference and to recognize when you’re adding needless additional burden (judgements, interpretations and stories) to a natural and temporary burden (emotions and emotional waves).
We can address this reaction to emotions using the same tools and concepts that we use to address our physical and cognitive panic and anxiety symptoms. Unlike our panic and anxiety symptoms, emotions are valid. They do matter. But that doesn’t mean that they are more than they are. They are just emotions and you are capable of feeling them and handling them directly, however difficult that may be. When you pile judgements and fear-based stories on top of those emotions, you are making things harder on yourself than they need to be.
Learning To Sit With Your Emotions
Just as we learn to experience and face our anxiety and panic symptoms directly and without resistance, you can also learn to experience your emotions fully and without resistance. Learning to experience your emotions without sounding the alarm is how we build emotional intelligence and resiliency. Feel sad. Feel angry. Feel resentful or regretful. Feel disappointed. You can do that, work through it, and wind up OK in the end. This is a normal and natural part of the human experience and condition. You can participate in that!
Have You Been Taught To Fear Your Emotions? Have You Been Taught That You Are Not Capable?
The bad mental habits of anxiety and anxiety disorders are the mechanical components that make handling emotions even harder than it already is, but there is more than that for many people. Many have been taught directly that they are weak, stupid, or generally incapable of handling life. When parents and other important people in our lives tell us this, they are teaching us that we cannot handle our emotions. When we see ourselves as incapable, even the normal part of life get scary and look like looming threats.
Sometimes we are taught INDIRECTLY to fear our emotions. If you have been immersed in situations in your childhood or in adult relationships where you are made to sweep your emotions under the rug or otherwise hide them, then you are never given the opportunity to learn and practice the skills that comprise emotional intelligence and resiliency. If your emotions were declared inconvenient to others, or if you were told that your emotions made others feel badly, then those opportunities to feel and learn from feeling were taken from you. When you are not given the ability to learn how to process and handle emotions, you wind up in a position where all emotions feel “too big” and are seen as threatening.
These are real, and all too common, experiences. If this has been your experience, it is VERY helpful to acknowledge it, understand the role it plays in your relationship with emotions, and to make the effort to confront and resolve the aftermath of this experience. It will matter.
Emotions are natural and normal. They are a part of life. You ARE capable of experiencing emotions, handling them, learning from them, and incorporating them into your life. You CAN shed the bad mental habits you’ve developed related to your emotions, and you CAN overcome the conditioning that has you convinced that you’re not worthy or able of all of this. Trust me. You are.
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Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)