Emotions: enemies or friends?

Inability to concentrate, being at a loss of what to do, procrastination, lethargy, keeping a grudge etc, these are just a few of the complex psychological states that often take power over people and interfere with the normal flow of life.

These are brought to life by the force of co-existing emotions, which we sometimes do not recognise in ourselves and, not knowingly, push aside, or, knowingly, reject. These emotions are part of us, the result of what has happened to us. They are our responses to the life events created by our unique response system.

According to our model of the outside world, or what we believe the outside world to be, we act and react on a daily basis. Everyone can recall an event which left them restless, upset and unable to concentrate on anything else. Imagining different scenarios of how it could have gone or how one might have reacted, while feeling guilty at the same time, is frustrating and exhausting. How do you usually cope with something like that? You might say to yourself: “Don’t be daft, concentrate!”, or, “Stop being a baby!” But does it help?

Let us pause here for a moment and have a closer look at what’s going on. When we feel this way we sometimes ignore the circumstances that could have contributed to our 'failure'. Here we need to look not only at the facts, such as what, who, why and when, but also at our emotional state before the event. Were we upset, unsure, afraid? And if so, why?

It’s crucially important to understand why you might have felt a certain way, and to not think about it as 'finding an excuse'. You are trying to understand yourself, to find a better way to cope, and in doing so, remodel your inner response system.

It’s crucially important to understand why you might have felt a certain way, and to not think about it as 'finding an excuse'. You are trying to understand yourself, to find a better way to cope, and in doing so, remodel your inner response system.

Imagine that you had an argument with a partner or a parent. There’s already a factor of your changed emotional state that might contribute to your ability to objectively react and feel. You are coming in to work, and as you walk through the office you accidentally push someone and they fall. You apologise, but you feel guilty and embarrassed, and you can’t stop thinking about it.

You might be thinking how you could have walked through the other door and avoided that person, or that you should have noticed that person before you bumped into them. You might call yourself all sorts of names. You feel tired of this mental torture but can’t stop it. You try and think of something totally different, have a drink, or do a lot of work to distract yourself from your nagging thoughts and bitter feelings. Or, simply put, you’re trying to disown your emotions.

But remember: emotions are a part of you and they are not going anywhere. The more you push, the harder they resist. You feel exhausted. Not surprisingly: you are attempting to part with something that has a rightful place in you. All of them, even the 'bad' ones have the right to be, for without them one can’t feel completely human.

Integrating your emotions 

Integrating your emotions within yourself is a difficult but worthwhile task. How can you do it? First of all, you need to name them. You need to remember in detail how you felt then, and now. Try to make a list. Start with the most obvious ones. For example, in the situation mentioned above, one might have felt embarrassment, shame, guilt, fear, anger, resentment and sadness.

You might ask: how can I willingly accept these emotions when I’m afraid that I might be crushed by them? You can begin by using your imagination. What if you imagine that your emotions are something non-threatening, like flowers or puppies? Or something equally innocent that might feel appealing. When a puppy eats your shoes you get upset but you don’t throw away your pet, you bear with it. Bearing with how you feel at the moment is often hard but is absolutely necessary to accept real-life experiences.

The keyword here is 'real'. Because life is hard, it’s complex and it’s often sad. Unfortunately, modern culture is trying to impose a 'positive way of thinking', presenting life as a joyful enterprise, pushing the idea that constant cheer and feelings of happiness are the norm. That was never true. Joyfulness is not a given. We all experience our ups and downs, but it doesn’t mean that when we are down this is wrong and it needs to be immediately fixed. Because no one is constantly 'up'. A healthy personality that is capable of going through life successfully is all about the equilibrium of emotions.

Owning your emotions is as important as taking the responsibility for your actions. This is something to strive for, but it’s also important to remember that it’s unlikely that there’s a person who’s managed to reach that equilibrium and live happily ever after. We are all in the process of trying.

Two women standing back to back

Let us get back to the situation in the office. But this time instead of trying to imagine how 'it could have gone if...', let us pause for a moment and feel what we are feeling. Let us remember how we felt before it all happened. Let us bear the weight of these feelings. They came because they needed us to notice them. They are telling us something. Let us listen to that. Often there’s an answer to what happened to you. You can find it if you make a connection between now and then.

When we allow ourselves to stop and feel our feelings, this is in itself a healing experience. Why? Because instead of pushing your feelings away from yourself, you are taking them in, making yourself more complete.

The more you do it, the easier it gets. This is true of any exercise. Integrating your emotions and feelings in yourself is no exception. Listening to yourself will become a habit. With this habit will come the feeling of reality: you will discover that you see things for what they are much more clearly, that decision making becomes easier, and that you can, in fact, enjoy your own company.

For many years we’ve been accumulating our emotional baggage. We’ve reacted to life’s circumstances according to what we’ve learnt, even if sometimes our reactions have brought us undesirable results. And for that reason re-learning will be a difficult task. It is always good to try and make it your daily exercise. You can even set a time aside for self-reflection. Pause, and feel the moment. Connect to how you feel rather than chasing the feeling away.

Consciously try to name what you’re feeling right now. Make a mental list, or write it down if you prefer. Try to remember how you felt an hour ago, or perhaps, recall the feelings from the other day if you feel that there’s a connection. One might explain the other. Now you make an attempt to take it all in and keep it. After all, this is your life experience.

Imagine these emotions and feelings as something innocent, that you can feel empathy towards puppies, little children, or even flowers. Make a space for them in your inner world. There they are: they are home, they don’t have to rebel and throw tantrums at you, because you’ve accepted them. This type of exercise will help to promote the sense of worth in you. Self-respect and feeling of contentment will follow.

There are various useful things that we usually overlook which can help you along the way, such as mindfulness techniques, physical activities, arts and crafts, singing and reading out loud. Things that allow you to connect to your feelings and safely express them. Try to find out what is best for you. With time you’ll realise that paying attention to and respecting your feelings is a natural part of you.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Sofia Kolesnikova, MBACP

Sofia Kolesnikova is a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor in private practice. She also works as a volunteer counsellor at Chichester Counselling Services. She specializes in working with anxiety, depression, trauma and relational difficulties.… Read more

Written by Sofia Kolesnikova, MBACP

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