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Restoring a healthy relationship with our emotions is a crucial task to sustain our mental wellness and safe connections with others. Emotions are the vital expressions of the body and soul, and connect us to the deepest parts of our being. However, in our contemporary world, emotions are often viewed with suspicion, and we are encouraged to suppress them or to view them as irrational or uncontrollable problems to be solved. This approach results in a disconnection from our inner selves and creates a sense of alienation and dissatisfaction. To restore a healthy relationship with our emotions, we must reevaluate our relationship with them and embrace their complexity and richness.
Reflecting our deepest desires, fears, and aspirations, emotions work in concert with our autonomic nervous system to help us navigate through life. Like all animals, humans carry emotions as an autonomic process that allows us to fully embody them as a primary guide for assessing our environment and honoring our basic needs. Emotions guide the animal body to survive, thrive and seek safety through connections in the form of families, packs, herds, prides, and so on.
By embracing our emotions, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and connect to our true nature. We can learn to listen to our emotions and respond to them in a way that is authentic and aligned with our values.
Recently I was supporting a client whom I’ll call Lyla. Lyla was struggling to connect with the wisdom of her emotions. Each time I asked her how she was feeling about a particularly challenging set of events with her adult siblings, she launched into a long and reasoned account of everyone else’s troubling behaviors. She kept saying if only she could figure everything out then she would feel okay. I continued to encourage her by asking, “Can you give yourself a chance to notice your feelings in this moment when you reflect on one of your siblings?” . Again, she responded with the same cerebral descriptions of her siblings’ challenges. Her tone was filled with both a mixture of empathy and judgment.
“I hate that I’m so judgemental towards my siblings. I have so many strong opinions of what I think they should do. Maybe I’m just a really judgemental person at heart. Is there any way I can learn to get rid of my resentment and judgments?” She asked.
For many of us, learning to create space for our emotions can be a foreign experience. Upon further discussion I was able to discover that Lyla had grown up in a family environment where she took on the role of being the nurturer and caretaker for everyone else’s needs. She was the family member everyone turned to for support when they had a problem or needed an extra hand.
As we unpacked her history further, we learned that there was a part of Lyla’s identity that was caught in the timeframe of her twelve-year old past. This post-adolescent part of her made enormous sacrifices to take care of everyone else. While casting aside her own needs delivered a modicum of much needed attention, Lyla’s twelve-year old self remains understandably angry that her needs didn’t seem to matter to her family.
With consistent and gentle encouragement, Lyla was able to imagine having an internal conversation with her twelve year old self, which allowed her the space to express her anger. For the first time in her adult life, Lyla’s focus shifted from trying to solve all the potential problems in her mind, to being able to process the emotional pain and frustration her twelve year old self had been holding. Once she could recognize and fully empathize with this young part of herself, the incessant loop of judgments towards her siblings began to fall away. Lyla realized that in her adult life she could start to heal her past by learning to create space for her own emotional state – most especially discovering how to form a healthy friendship with her anger. She now had the freedom to cultivate a state of balance and wellbeing by connecting with her own needs before rushing in to take up the baton of care-taking for others.
In order to reawaken a healthy relationship with our emotions, we can learn to check in throughout the day to simply survey ourselves to notice what emotion is stirring. Like strengthening a muscle, we can train our mind and body to become more attuned to our emotions. This practice is vital to getting back in touch with our essential wisdom.
I invite you to be curious about frequent and/or disquieting emotions in your life at the moment. Make a commitment to remain present to the transformational tension that’s taking place. Allowing your emotions to move through you without the impulse to try to “fix” something will enable the seeds of connection and curiosity to take root. You might try journaling about the following questions:
- Where does the emotion live and move in my body?
- What are its features and characteristics?
- If the emotion could make a sound, what sound would it make?
- What do my emotions want to do, say and show me?
- Can I allow my emotions to guide my behavior in response to what’s happening now?
- Can I gain energy from them in order to become more vital and fulfilled?
- Can I liberate my imagination to release me from my inner critics who too hastily label my emotions as immature, uncontrolled, unrelated and inappropriate? In doing so, you may discover that many of your most active emotions are held by the parts of yourself that you’ve held in exile for most of your life.
- What emotions do you struggle to allow space for inside yourself? What would enable you to feel safe enough to witness these emotions rather than resist them?
- What emotions do you struggle to allow space for in other people? What might you need in order to feel safe enough to allow their emotion to simply flow without giving it too much meaning.
- What emotions do you repeatedly and routinely seek out? How do they or don’t they serve you and others?
In a real sense, our emotions serve us as a call to action. This makes sense, because the Latin word for emotion is emovere, meaning “move or set in motion.” But I prefer the meaning derived from the Sanskrit kama-muta, which translates as “moved by love.” The poet William Blake described emotions as “Divine Influxes” that can quantitatively and qualitatively increase our capacity to navigate the magnificent panoply of a vibrant life. By acknowledging their complexity and richness, we can connect to our authentic selves and gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. We must move away from a problem-solving approach and towards a more imaginative one, embracing our emotions as symbols and metaphors that reflect our inner world. By doing so, we can restore a sense of wholeness within ourselves and connect to the deeper parts of our being.