You Can’t Outrun Your Emotions: You Have to Feel & Process Them
Understanding my emotions have always been a bit of a problem. Because we find ourselves in a society where emotions are labeled the enemy, we are not allowed to get in touch with them. Naturally, this only leads to more problems. You are told to ignore the feelings in your body and instead focus on other things. We tell the male child that it is not his responsibility to feel. We tag the female child emotional and weak when they cry or when they’re visibly sad or angry.
It took me a while to find out that emotions are not good or bad. It isn’t about that. They are simply a natural response to actions, our environment. They are not harmful, and are instead crucial to how we navigate life. Why then are we taught to avoid them like the plague? I’m guessing it is because of the amount of discomfort that we experience because of them. The pain is usually unbearable and we would rather ignore the pain than deal with it. Really, that’s understandable.
Many adults spend a lot of their years giving themselves reasons why they shouldn’t feel emotions. They grudgingly convince themselves that they would be better off if they didn’t focus their energy on emotions. Temporarily, that seems to work. You get into an altercation with your friend and you are angry, sad, and frustrated. These emotions are exhausting. You quickly push them aside and tell yourself that it’s not reasonable to feel that way. And this is even justified by what you’ve been told during your formative years.
What we are not told during those formative years is that emotions cannot be ignored. They’re like petulant housewives. You have to pay attention to them. When you are involved in situations that elicit emotions, and you ignore them successfully at that very moment. Guess what happens? They hide under the basement and wait until something triggers you to respond. And they come back flooding with utmost intensity. That’s when we become overwhelmed and do what we truly fear: do something irrational. Quite paradoxical, eh? You get me.
Before we delve into what to do with emotions, I think it’s important to understand the true nature of emotions and why we feel the things we feel. We tend to think that feeling these emotions are a sign of weakness or vulnerability. While it isn’t right or wrong to think that, what we should instead see is how undeniably human it is to feel them. Emotions are not there to be reasoned with or to be countered with logic. They are not there to be rationalized in the sense of rightness and wrongness. What am I saying essentially?
When we are angry or sad over something we consider flimsy like when our phone charger suddenly stops working, our first instinct is to rationalize the situation and extensively, rationalize what we feel. It is no doubt that the world doesn’t come to an end simply because of a faulty phone charger (logic paints this on a board for you to see). We immediately tell ourselves that the situation isn’t worth feeling anger or sadness over (logic picks up a whip and starts flogging your emotions, trying to scare them away). We invalidate those emotions without even giving them any opportunity to rear their heads. We stuff them so deep within ourselves that we lose sight of them.
It’s not that rationalizing your emotions or using logic to approach your emotions is necessarily a bad thing. It’s more like a square peg in a round hole thing. They’re not just compatible. Emotions need your attention, that’s simply their nature: they are basically notifications that pop up and you have to attend to. Anger, sadness, grief, regret, disappointment, shame. Whatever the emotion is, when it shows up, all it’s asking of you is to pay attention. It sounds easy but we know it’s far from easy. Spend time with those emotions no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel. They’re fickle in nature. The moment an emotion isn’t acted upon but is instead noticed and observed, it takes its leave. That leads us to how to handle them.
Frankly, this approach is more difficult practically. Some of us are quite unlucky in the sense that our bodies have been conditioned to respond/react before we even soak in the emotions or attempt to understand them or lay with them. For example, I become very sweaty when I’m nervous or embarrassed and so it takes a while before I adjust to accommodating the emotions and observing them. But the result of this approach is usually worth it. Once I begin to pay attention to those emotions without stifling them, they end up floating away and vanishing. As opposed to them being unresolved.
To give us a better perspective on this, your emotions should not be conflated with your thoughts. How do we tell the difference, because realistically, they’re both abstract? It’s as straightforward as this: your emotions are what you feel; your thoughts are the voices in your head. They’re intertwined yet you need to be able to distinguish them. It goes a long way in helping you declutter your mind and giving your emotions space to…be. More often than not you come out clear headed.
Is rationalizing the devil it’s sticking out to be? Not exactly. It proves useful in situations where you cannot afford to feel. Let me make it less unequivocal. If you’re having an altercation with your friend and things are getting heated, the quick-fix is to use logic. Why? You cannot possibly afford to simply feel when all the muscles in your body are yearning to react, your emotions bursting at the seams. So in that heated moment, logic tells you that you should avoid letting those emotions consume you. Rationalizing 101, check.
On the other hand, what this article seeks to tell you, which I have successfully packaged in enticing words, is that after that moment of countering your emotions with logic, to completely escape their inflammable nature, you ought to give them your full attention the moment they resurface, most likely a moment that’s unprovocative. And trust this to happen, an emotion won’t meet its obliteration if you don’t process it. It’s how they’re designed to function. At least from my observation and experience so far.
Somewhere along the line, we’re also likely to realize that logic and emotions are not opposites. Rather, they both exist on a spectrum and there’s usually a middle ground. We’re able to practicalize this through mindfulness. In the sense that you’re mindful of your emotions (feeling them thoroughly) and mindful of your rational mind as it puts up an opera performance in the background. Mindfulness strikes the balance between feeling and thinking.
If at any point, this article gets puzzling, I sincerely apologize. I’m doing this thing where I’m writing from my heart and just allowing whatever I feel bleed into words and I realize that it can sometimes be derailing. But it also seems that it is the genuineness of a writer’s words that pierces the heart of the readers. And that is simply my aim.
A major takeaway from this article would be that you should get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s a huge life lesson. See ya. cash ya.