The Courage to Feel Emotions
Emotion is associated with bodily reactions activated through neurotransmitters and hormones released by the brain. Emotion is a mental reaction toward events or people, which derives from circumstances or mood. Emotion often leads to physiological and behavioural changes in the body.
Emotions indicate if our need is met and influence our action. For example, we tend to do things that give them a sense of joy or excitement and avoid things that create feelings of boredom or frustration. How we feel motivates us to make certain decisions or participate in certain activities or hobbies. According to research, emotions affect both mental and physical health. For example, people who are often fearful may suffer from anxiety. At the same time, those who are always angry are at higher risk of getting heart disease. Research also found that a long lifespan is associated with happiness.
Since emotions significantly affect our lives, decisions, behaviours, and well-being, we need to understand our feelings to learn how to regulate them. Painful emotions tell us something is seriously wrong while happy emotions bring joy.
Painful emotions can be intense and overwhelming. Some people try to suppress it by disengaging or numbing the feeling. While disengaging from your emotion might provide temporary relief, it is not helpful in the long term because it leads to adverse effects on your relationship with others. When you ignore or suppress your emotions, it affects your ability to recognise how you feel. You may think that you are managing your emotions, but you do not realise you are projecting your emotion in unhealthy manners. For example, you may be easily irritable but have no clue why you are angry. You may then start externalising your emotion by blaming and displacing your anger on others, attempting to further numb it through unhelpful coping mechanisms like using alcohol or gaming excessively.
Suppressing your emotion may also confuse and lead to difficulty with identity or a sense of self. For example, people going through grief and loss experience multiple painful emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt or even confusion. Numbing the intense and painful emotions may seem like you have managed it well, but you still struggle inside. For example, prolonged internalised anger will eventually impact how you interact with others. People who are continually angry at themselves often appear to be unapproachable. They have difficulty empathising with others, which leads to people experiencing them as uncaring and hostile. People who numb their painful emotions also dampen their joy. Thus they have difficulty feeling happy, which turns others from wanting to be with them.
The opposite of numbing your emotion is not letting the feeling take over your life but having the courage to face it. Understanding your emotions will help you better understand who you are and why you feel a certain way. It then enables you to decide how you want to act in response to your feelings. For example, you are feeling angry because someone has misunderstood you. Recognising and validating the anger allows you to decide how you would like to respond to the mistreatment.
Having the courage to feel emotions may not be easy, but start with small steps. Reflections and journaling are excellent for identifying why you feel what you feel, and how you respond emotionally to circumstances. Try writing down events that happened in the day and how you reacted and felt. Allow yourself time to recognise your emotions without dismissing them. It is also helpful to confide in a trusted, emotionally aware friend. You might also want to consult a professional counsellor or psychotherapist with training in emotion focused therapy to understand and process your emotions and learn ways to regulate them effectively.
Restoring Peace Counselling & Consultancy offers counselling and psychotherapy for various mental health challenges, including emotion coaching. For more information, please visit www.restoringpeace.com.sg or Whatsapp at +65 8889 1848.
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