Trigger Warning: This article mentions emotional highs and lows, including suicidal ideation that may be triggering to those who have experienced it and/or have suffered from suicidal attempts, directly or indirectly. Reading this article might arise feelings of sadness, healing, and self-awareness, so please read with caution and (self-)compassion. If you are experiencing any suicidal ideation or struggling with your mental health, please speak to a mental health professional and take care of yourself. Many thanks, MTL.
Emotions have been getting a really bad rep lately. Some of us claim we have no emotions. Growing up, I remember friends stating they “have a black hole where my heart use to be”. As emotionally in tune as I try to be, I’ve been guilty of making this joke too!
Why is that? Why is it cool to come off like we don’t have feelings? Are we afraid of our emotions controlling us? Or worst, people weaponizing our emotions against us? Or are really simply afraid of being vulnerable and seeing emotions as a sign of weakness?
Before the rise of mental health awareness and self-care culture, many of us felt the pressure to be positive… all… the… time. I know because I was Ms. Sunshine for many years. Always happy, chipper, and full of energy. Well, little Ms. Sunshine experienced depression on and off over those years, hit rock bottom on numerous occasions, and had suicidal ideations during her lowest points.
From these experiences, I learned A LOT. But for the sake of this article, I’ll focus on fixing our relationship with emotions as understanding our emotions is a great skill to have, especially if you want to live an authentic and intentional life. Learning about my emotions and learning to articulate them has helped me with my personal development, communication, relationship building, and purpose work in ways I never thought possible.
Your relationship with your emotions
Before I jump in, I want to ground this conversation by pointing out that it is totally ok if you’re struggling to understand, label, feel, and express your emotions in healthy manners. This is especially common among cis men, people of global majority/from ethnic backgrounds (e.g. Black and African American men), and cis women who acted/felt anything outside of feminine, graceful, and polite.
Many of us weren’t taught to have a good relationship with our emotions.
We were taught to suppress our emotions (“men done cry”), covert how we truly feel (“be a good girl and smile”), and compartmentalize them (“you have to work towards as hard to get half as much and you can’t complain about it”). Not only were we not allowed to feel them, but we also weren’t taught how to identify nor express them in healthy manners.
We develop defense mechanisms to cope with our inability to express our emotions and our mismanagement of them. We internalize our disappointment from our unmet needs and development repression. Long-term, this can develop into self-rejection and depression.
Projecting our anger onto others, displacement, and lashing out can cause harm to ourselves and others. Due to the trauma we experienced, we can also develop denial of what happened, dissociation, and/or even reaction formation. Without proper support (especially from a mental health professional), we can develop behaviors such as people-pleasing, self-rejection, anxiety, and so many other issues.
We self-sabotage opportunities in love, career, and life because we lack the ability to understand the root cause of our emotions and can’t regulate our behaviors.
Benefits of a better relationship with your emotions
What does it even mean to have a good relationship with our emotions? Similar to building a good relationship with others, having a good relationship with your emotions (an extension of your sense of self) requires listening, compassion, and understanding. The objective here is to self-regulate your emotions. To better manage them through adjustment and governance without outside interference.
Consciously choosing your emotional responses contributes to emotional intelligence, maturity, and self-mastery. This includes learning to listen to your emotions by sitting with and allowing your emotions to wash over you. Identifying what they are and understanding their purpose – what are your emotions trying to tell you? Then, determine your response – what do you do now with this new information?
Mastering your emotions allows you to master yourself.
Practice listening to your emotions. It will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of yourself. It enables you to manage your triggers and consciously choose your response vs to react to your first thoughts.