Letting emotions in

It can be difficult to connect with how we are feeling, or sometimes we just do not want to put in the work to understand. We assume it will be a painful process, and it can be, so we avoid it at all costs, as who would want to feel pain?


Instead, we escape into fantasies and deny how we are feeling. Distract ourselves. However, just because we refuse to see our pain, it does not mean it is not there.

The invisible wall

If there was an invisible wall in front of you that you refused to acknowledge, what would happen? You might continually bump into it and create different excuses/explanations for the outcome, “Oh my head is bleeding because… it just does that sometimes.” We might actively deny it when people notice our continuous injuries and suggest we do something about the wall, “It’s not because there is a wall there, it is because…”

This might sound like a ludicrous analogy but we do it all the time with our emotions. At times people will name the emotion for us, or we will name it ourselves before denying it. “Oh no, I’m not angry, it’s just…” despite our visual agitation and snappiness with those around us. “Oh no, I’m not sad, it’s just that advert gets me every time…” despite withdrawing for the past couple of hours and tears streaming down our faces.

Negative beliefs we have about our emotions

It might be particularly hard to acknowledge anger or sadness; emotions we associate with being ‘negative,’ because of beliefs or experiences we have had around these emotions growing up.

If we have often seen anger turn into violence in the family home, we may become fearful of getting angry or sparking anger in others. If sadness was not tolerated, we may have learnt to hide our tears or taught ourselves to disconnect from acknowledging when we feel sad.
It can be uncomfortable and feel scary to experience these emotions, as physically they usually create a feeling of unease in our body. We might feel nervous energy, heavy, hot or tense, therefore our instinct is to move away from this as quickly as possible. It can therefore feel easier to shut them out.

Whilst this might be a short-term solution, in the long-term we may notice that the emotion keeps on returning with a vengeance - screaming at us, “Look at me, I’m still here!” By this point, the emotions may feel even stronger or as if they are popping up out of the blue. It might lead to us feeling so overwhelmed by the build-up that we end up staying in bed, depleted by the weight and exhaustion we now feel in this battle to escape them. Alternatively, we might explode at a loved one or the nearest person in our vicinity.

Letting emotions in

Though emotions might seem like our enemies, it may be more helpful and accurate to view them as friends. Emotions often provide us with useful information and are essentially just a response to our internal and/or external environment.

  • If we feel angry, it is likely due to injustice or unfairness we have endured.
  • If we feel sad, perhaps it is in response to someone hurting us, or experiencing loss.
  • If we feel anxious, something may feel threatening or create a sense of fear in us, which needs to be thought about and addressed.

Usually, once we acknowledge it is there, feel it in our body and name the emotion, this is half the battle. It can make things a lot less confusing and help us to feel safer in our minds and bodies, as now we can start to understand what is going on.

Instead of a stranger continuously visiting and banging on our door, if we invite them in, talk to them and understand what they want, they will leave more calmly, quietly and quickly, than when they came. We then do not need to be afraid of impromptu visits in the middle of the night, asking ourselves, “What do they want?” “Why won’t they just leave me alone, they can see I’m not answering the door?” Emotions do not just go away because we want them to, they will continue to knock until we let them in.

How to start the process

We all experience emotions differently. Start to connect with how each emotion presents itself in your body. If you feel hot, it may be a sign of anger, or you might notice you fidget when you feel anxious.
Take the time to check in with your body once a day. Do a simple body scan, moving from your head down to your feet, noticing what sensations come up and which emotions this might indicate you are feeling. At the end of each day, reflect on how you felt, and write notes about changes in your emotions and the events they were connected to. You could also download an “emotion wheel” to help you become more familiar with vocabulary you can use to better describe your emotions.
If you need further support, contact me or another qualified therapist who can help you with this.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bromley, BR1
Written by Dr Avril Gabriel, PsychD, CPsychol
Bromley, BR1

Dr Avril Gabriel is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist. She is currently offering one-to-one therapy, after previously working in university counselling services. She also worked in the NHS for many years. She is interested in helping people feel more connected to their body and to better understand their experiences.

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