If you are a fan of Fault in Our Stars, you will know exactly what I am talking about. These are the words in Hazel’s favourite book. Augustus Waters repeats them when their friend reacts to a breakup by smashing old trophies. While watching, did you think, “I will never do anything like that” but are yearning to be free of the weight on your chest . . .
It is important to understand our emotions and feelings.
Emotions are our natural bodily responses to outside stimuli and feelings are the mental associations we make with those bodily responses. Feelings are determined by our own unique beliefs, experiences, etc. All humans have the same emotions, but not the same feelings.
And this is often where problems in our society and cultures occur: we love to universalise everything and so label certain feelings and reactions appropriate and others not.
Everyone enjoys being happy or feeling joy, but avoids fear and anger. It’s definitely not OK to react to anger by throwing a tantrum in the middle of a shop. Certain feelings are also accepted only for a specific gender: for many years and still in many cultures women have been expected to be submissive so that any feeling of anger that manifests as assertiveness is frowned upon. Men are seen as cowardly and weak if they show any signs of sadness or pain. Often we don’t know what to do with what we feel, so we push it into a Pandora’s Box somewhere at the back of our minds . . .
It comes as no surprise then that our modern lives are full of mental disorders, with many theories regarding the causes. Peter Mutke gives his ideas in Hypnosis: The Mind/Body Connection, explaining that unresolved emotions tend to wriggle their way into our subconscious system and start to manifest either in our bodies as physical symptoms or as psychological disorders. Without some kind of release the emotion ultimately creates a chemical imbalance.
My guess is that perhaps mental disorders are so prevalent because we haven’t learnt to deal with our emotions and feelings in healthy ways yet.
We go to great lengths not to show our emotions – suppress them, ignore them – just to stay safe and not be ridiculed or ostracised. We seem not to understand that there is nothing wrong with feeling something like anger – however, it is about how we act upon it. I love the way Julia Cameron goes about explaining anger in her book The Artist’s Way. She says: “Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout . . . Anger is meant to be ACTED UPON. It is not meant to be ACTED OUT. Anger points the direction. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us . . . Anger is not the action itself. It is action’s invitation.”
It would seem then that the key to dealing with our emotions and feelings in a healthy way is firstly to be fully aware of them. To make the unconscious conscious.
Say someone cuts you off in traffic, pause and notice the reaction in your body. Acknowledge what you are experiencing without judgement. Just listen and notice. As Peter Mutke says: “How well the individual recognizes his unconscious and emotional response to the situation is the key to balance or imbalance.” Then instead of reacting instinctively, stop and consider your options. Allow your neocortex to guide you in making conscious choices on how to respond.
Try the following:
- Acknowledge your feelings by saying “I feel irritated by this” or “I feel terrified by that”. Notice the difference between these statements and something like “You make me so angry!” It is important to own your feelings and see them as YOUR feelings.
- Really stressful events cause emotions to lodge in our bodies. Find healthy ways to express the emotion in your body. Try a very energetic dance class or perhaps even kickboxing. Go for a run or a walk. Sweep the floors.
- Make time to really get to know your feelings and emotions.