We all experience the five primary emotions: Fear, Hurt, Anger, Sadness, and Joy. We are better equipped to recognize and respond to some emotions more than others based on our family systems - the social rules of engagement we learn from our loved ones throughout childhood.
Express All Your Emotions
Some people are taught that it’s ok to express emotions like joy and anger, while it may be unacceptable to express others like fear, hurt, or sadness. This will differ based on your own family situation, but what’s most important is to recognize that all of these emotions exist inside each of us and that we are entirely responsible for how we choose to respond to these emotions.
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you are responsible for someone else’s emotions. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
We cannot control how another individual is feeling. If someone is sad, we are not responsible for making them happy. When they are hurt, we can’t stop them from feeling pain, no matter how badly we’d like to. These things are completely out of our control.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t support your loved one in a time of need. Yes, we should all be present to listen and support that individual, however, it is important to recognize that we cannot change what that person is feeling and how they respond to their emotions.
Own Your Emotions
We are, however, 100% responsible for our own emotions. More importantly, we are directly responsible for how we react to these emotions. Emoting responsibly is something that I’ve been working on over the past couple of years through Social and Emotional Intelligence training.
I’m guilty of responding to my emotions irresponsibly more often than I’d wish to admit. For instance, if someone upsets me at work, instead of confronting that individual in a responsible, calm manner and explain why I feel wronged, etc., I typically bury this feeling deep inside and hoping it will disappear with time.
The hard part is, the problem that created the feeling doesn’t go away. Instead, it festers inside and rears its ugly head as I find myself acting out toward, ashamedly, my loved ones.
This isn’t what I want for myself, my family or my friends. So how can I learn to emote more responsibly? Through habits of course.
Habituate Feeling Your Feelings
The first habit is to get better at recognizing feelings. It helps to understand what I’m feeling when I focus on presencing myself. To do this I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and clear my mind of any thoughts. Then, I try to feel. I ask myself, “What is my primary emotion at this time? Is it joy? Sadness? Hurt? Anger? Fear?”
Once I identify the feeling, I try to understand why I am feeling this way. Am I feeling sad because my wife is away for work this week? Am I feeling fear because of that upcoming speaking engagement? Is my hurt coming from a snide remark made by a coworker that went unaddressed?
Once I understand what I am feeling and why I am feeling it, I can think of logical, actionable steps that can help me see these emotions through to completion.
What am I feeling?
Why am I feeling sad?
Because my wife is away this week and I miss spending time with her.
Ok, what steps can I take to connect with her while she’s away?
Well, I can schedule a time where we can video chat later tonight. I can send her a text telling her that I miss her. I can give her a call to see how her day is going, etc.
Have Your Yearnings Met
Any of these options can help my yearning to connect with my wife be met. Having my yearning met by taking actionable steps is a great way to help see emotions through to completion. I can resolve the things that are bothering me to free up space for the good stuff that life has to offer.
Avoid Numbing Your Emotions
An irresponsible way to emote would be to numb my sadness through TV, social media, over-eating or alcohol. Instead of solving the problem, I would likely resent my wife for being away. This could manifest itself through passive-aggressive tendencies, disengagement in our relationship, or picking petty fights.
This option doesn’t sound healthy for myself or my marriage and it’s exactly why it's important to consider practicing habituating the three steps as outlined above.
The ability to feel your emotions, understand what causes them, and plan responsible ways of responding to these feelings takes practice. A whole lot of it. However, I can assure you that learning to do so on a regular basis has changed my relationship with my wife, my family, my friends, my coworkers, and most importantly, my relationship with myself, for the better.
We would love to hear from you on this subject. What emotions are ok to express in your family system? Which aren't? Are there ways that you numb your emotions that don't serve you well in your life? How have unexpressed emotions affected your relationship with others?