Dealing with Feeling: What Good are Moods?
Would you get rid of your hard emotions, like sadness, fear, guilt, and anger, if you could? Would you want a life without them? What if you could stop those emotions from coming, but the price would be that you also couldn’t have happiness, connection, hope or excitement?
Would you trade a life of emotions of all kinds for a life free from them all?
At the root of most counseling work is a client’s desire to experience fewer difficult emotions and more happy emotions. To simply be happy. It feels unfair and annoying that we have to live our lives dogged by these troublesome emotions, always getting in the way and making our eyes wet or our throat tight or our hearts pound.
I completely understand the desire to just make it all stop!
But…emotions serve a purpose, and we can’t just quit them. Running from them usually creates more suffering in the end.
Most of us need to learn how to effectively process an emotion.
Neurotypical people (in other words, people who don’t have any sort of neurological disorder) come into the world with the seeds for emotional experience already planted. If nothing is done to nurture those seeds into well tended trees, they will instead grow wild and become overwhelming and possibly even terrifying. The person who has an untamed jungle wilderness of emotions inside will understandably do almost anything to stay away from that mess, even if it eventually leads them to long term harm.
The question is, how do you effectively cope with tough emotions?
- Through language. This is part of why talk therapy helps. Your words are like trellises for your wild emotions to grow on. When you build these trellises, you know where they are, you know what kind of vines are growing on each, and overall you are less intimidated by the overgrowth of tomato vines. This feelings wheel, designed by Gloria Wilcox, can help guide you in finding the right words.
- Through acceptance. It’s ok to feel things. Your emotions are legitimate, even when you can’t explain why you’re having them. Treat them as guests at a neighborhood block party — they’ve arrived, whether or not you actually wanted them to come. No use fighting it or spending too much time trying to figure out their motives. Just entertain them while they’re there and then say goodbye when they go.
- Get physical! The physical aspect of an emotion is it’s initial driver. Getting clear about what you’re feeling, physically, will help you give it appropriate context. If your stomach is clenched, it’s easy to interpret that as “fear,” but maybe it’s actually excitement. Or it could even be a stomach flu. Since emotions can have such a strong effect on actions and behaviors (fear would make you want to avoid, while excitement would make you want to approach), it’s really helpful to give your physical state the best context for your conscious goals.
Journaling, talking to friends, eliciting emotion in a safe context like watching a sad movie, are all ways to help you learn how to manage emotional states.
If you want support in exploring your own emotions and the barriers you have to experiencing them, reach out! I’d love to talk with you about it.