With everything that has been happening in the world recently, and the sense of lack of control surrounding them, strong emotions have been felt across the UK, Europe and around the world.
As humans, we are a complicated mix of senses, conscious thought, unconscious thought and emotions. The link between all of those is what creates such a complex result of being human. We are amazingly capable of analytical thinking, subtle hearing or vision and physical action, but below the surface is a whole world of unconscious thought and emotion that we have very little awareness of and almost no control over.
So what is the objective of discussing emotions if we can’t control them? Well we have a choice about how we respond to our emotions and physical feelings. That is how we can have an impact on our wellbeing and our behaviour.
The thoughts we have are always triggered by something, even if it’s very difficult to notice what. It might be an external trigger – such as seeing someone we like (or don’t like), or an internal trigger such as a memory or a physical sensation. Either way, there is always a physical feeling involved – think tight stomach with something that makes us anxious, a tight throat when there’s something we want to say but can’t or tight shoulders when we are stressed. Most of the time these physical aspects of our experience are subtle and go unnoticed compared to our conscious thoughts that are so strong.
Each of our physical feeling either has a negative, positive or neutral quality associated, and that is unique to each of us. Our mind does an amazing job of avoiding the physical feelings that create a negative impact for us and it’s this that can really drive our behaviour and our reactions to things that trigger these “negative” internal feelings.
If you accept that emotions play a significant role in our day to day, minute to minute and even second to second experience, I would believe that it’s also reasonable to accept that living a broad set of emotions is a parallel for leading a rich and varied life. People often talk about a rich and varied life in terms of experiences. I don’t think it means that you need to try everything in order to get that quality and depth of life experience that can leave us feeling so fulfilled.
Managing our reactions and behaviour in response to emotions…
From my own experiences and from my experiences coaching, I can see that one thing that helps people feel fulfilled is to be in or with their emotions fully and completely as they arise and then to completely let them go as they naturally subside. This allows us to really feel alive and connected to the flow in our lives. I’ve also seen that there are two ways in which we form destructive relationships with our emotions.
The first is to repress feelings and emotions as they come up. Perhaps we don’t like that feeling of anger, guilt, sadness or even love for someone we “shouldn’t love”. There are many reasons to repress these strong emotions, but the reality is that they do arise and by repressing them we actually lock them in more deeply. We become unable to spend time with that person we “shouldn’t love” or we feel anger towards. Not only does that impact how fully we can live our lives, but it also makes us inefficient because our mind learns to do anything it can to avoid the feeling, taking huge diversions and introducing strange and ineffective behaviours. Sometime the best thing would be to own the emotion and let our thinking be simplified.
The second destructive relationship is to dwell on the thoughts that arise from an emotion. That person we love that we just can’t stop thinking about, or the thing that someone did that just bothers us so much we can’t let go. This attachment to the thoughts means that we cling onto emotions for longer than is healthy and we end up not living in the moment.
Our mind can end up continually recreating the emotions through circular thought patterns. Those emotions, if left alone, would have come, passed and be long gone. Sometimes this attachment can last years, having a massive impact on our lives. This process often takes up a lot of mental and physical energy, causing us to feel drained and at worst depressed.
So in my personal and professional experience, emotions are what really make us feel alive, and yes – it is important to embrace our emotionality. By letting our emotions come up when they arise, we connect to a deeper part of ourselves and our lives. It allows us to feel deeply connected to ourselves and others. Emotions are a big part of being human. However, it is, for your own sanity, it’s important not to dwell on the thoughts that arise from emotions.
Create space for whatever comes up next and be with that without dwelling.