Emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant, are part of our humanness. In some cases, we don’t want to feel unpleasant emotions. It’s just too painful. However, there are times when we don’t want to feel pleasant emotions either. Sometimes we don’t think we deserve to feel good.
All Emotions have Value
For some, their challenge is managing unpleasant emotions. For others, it’s managing their pleasant emotions. In an attempt to accept all of our emotions, it’s often helpful to think of them as pleasant or unpleasant rather than good or bad. ALL emotions have VALUE.
Substances or Behaviors can Numb Emotions
Emotions allow us to care, protect, withdraw from harm, be safe, connect, experience empathy, remember past experiences and serve many other beneficial functions. Emotions are not always easy to feel. Sometimes we shut them off, put a mask on them or deny that they even exist by using substances (alcohol, drugs). We might also use behaviors to numb the emotions like working long hours, viewing pornography, over-eating, extreme sports, computer games, internet searching, candy and other sweets, movies, or other behavioral options. We have a long list of behavioral options to choose from.
Whether we use substances or behaviors to numb the emotional pain or happiness, each can be habit forming. Since substances and behaviors are mood altering, they work in the short term and numb us or kill the emotional pain or happiness. Over time, it is very easy to become dependent or addicted.
Intellectual Ways to become Emotionally Numb
However, there are intellectual ways to emotionally numb ourselves and kill the pain or happiness too. These methods have the same effect as substances and behaviors, but we seldom notice them and they are often socially acceptable, so we don’t generally think we have to do anything about them. Here are some statements, mostly intellectualizing, we say to ourselves to avoid, deny, minimize, or rationalize the emotional pain or happiness, so we don’t have to feel it:
“It is what it is.”
“It will never change.”
“I don’t care any more.”
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“She will never change.”
“He always does this.”
“I don’t want her to feel bad.”
“I don’t want to be a burden.”
“It’s not a big deal.”
“I don’t want to blow it out of proportion”
“I can’t do anything about it.”
Review the above list and choose the sentences you might use or add new ones.
Embracing Emotional Contrast to Life
In some respects, each of the above shorten our emotional experience. It puts a period rather than a comma at the end of the event. We are saying, “It’s done.” “It’s over.” “Move on.” We certainly don’t want to get stuck in the past and keep rehashing it, but we also don’t want to rush through and skip over it either. By walking with the emotions, we can begin to see the value of holding the pain, accepting it, and learning from it, so we can have a wider contrast when we experience joy. By comparison, If we are willing to walk in the cold, rain, snow and hail, we will learn to appreciate the warmth of the sun, clear skies and stunning sunsets more. The contrast in weather helps us to know both extremes. Likewise, we can learn to respond to unpleasant emotions just as we respond to unpleasant weather.
We only really know the joy because we have walked with the sorrow. If we cut out the sorrow, we limit our ability to embrace joy. Why? Because we will have no comparison and don’t know it is joy.
It is sad when working with clients and they tell me a recent event and I ask, “How did that make you feel?” Their response, “I didn’t feel anything.”
Ways to Improve Feeling
Here are some possible ways to increase our ability to feel:
- Realize emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, are part of our humanness. We need both.
- Create a list of emotional words or search the internet to find a list.
- Set your alarm on your cell phone to go off twice a day. When the alarm sounds, look at the list of words and see which ones resonant with you right at that moment.
- Write the words down and expand on what you are feeling. Write about what you are feeling or send yourself a text. For example, “I’m frustrated and irritated that I have another deadline to meet with no say or input on the due date. I feel very disrespected and resent that somehow I’m suppose to pull this off.” This is emotional journaling. Sentence structure, punctuation and flow, don’t matter.
I want to FEEL Better
As we write about our feelings and express them on paper or by text, we are more likely to be genuine and real when those close to us ask, “How was work today?” Instead of the usual, “It was fine.” We are more likely to talk about what we wrote in our emotional journal. This emotional openness often creates closeness and bonding with spouse and family. We are also teaching our children to be emotionally open and vulnerable when appropriate. Years ago, I took a workshop about changing behaviors. The presenter started with these two sentences:
I want to feel BETTER!
I want to FEEL better!
At the end of the workshop, the presenter made the point, “If we want to feel BETTER, we need to learn how to FEEL.” Likewise, a wide contrast of feelings, between pleasant and unpleasant emotions, brings interest, discovery, excitement, passion and much more fulfillment to life without any mood-altering substance, behavior, or intellectualizing.
© 2016 Rod W. Jeppsen