Think of a child throwing himself on the floor, wailing in unabashed fury, pounding his hands and feet in revolt because you said ‘no’ to the candy before dinner. While his generous range of high-pitched demands may be annoying, our children are models of untainted behavior.
What I’m getting at is this: emotions color virtually everything we feel, think, say, and do. And expressing them and releasing them physically is as natural and as important as brushing our teeth. When we were babies we were innocent and pure. We delighted in the world around us and marveled at being alive. The world was our oyster. We dealt with upsets by spontaneously expressing them, in the moment — crying, sobbing, screaming, shivering, wailing, jumping up and down, moaning, pounding — and then swiftly returning to our trusting, full-of-creative-potential selves.
So if our fundamental nature is to show what we’re feeling, what happened? As we grew, our parents, schools, peers, and religions all got their two cents in for teaching us the ‘appropriate’ way to be. Express our emotions and we no longer ‘fit in.’
Our families and societies had their own time and place constraints, and as adults around us struggled with unexpressed emotions themselves, discouraged from showing what was truly going on inside. Instead of expressing our emotions, we developed defenses and counterproductive ways of compensating.
Crying suddenly became taboo. Your tears may have been met with,
“Don’t be a cry-baby,” “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Expressing healthy anger was also forbidden. Maybe your childhood anger prompted reprimands such as, “Girls aren’t pretty when they’re angry,” “We don’t yell in this family.” Or maybe expressing fear was summarily squashed with messages, “Don’t be a scaredy-cat,” “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
And it’s not just the ‘negative’ or ‘unpleasant’ emotions we stifle. We’ve learned to downplay the emotions of joy, love, and peace, too. As children, our unbridled laughter was often disruptive to the busy routines of adults. When we squealed in sheer delight, our parents’ usually firmly told us to tone it down. And when we were peaceful and content to lie on the grass, many of us heard, “Don’t just sit there” or “Can’t you find something better to do?” Good moments immediately turned flat — and the cycle continues.
Because we’re living, breathing human beings, we’re guaranteed to experience countless emotionally charged events on a daily basis. However, it doesn’t even occur to us that we could express the emotions we’re feeling. I’m not saying we resist laughing at something funny, hugging our children, or experiencing a moment of peace while hiking in nature. But we still put on our running shoes when we need to cry, express anger, or show fear. Physically expressing our emotions naturally has become a bit foreign.
Suppressing emotions is trickybusiness. I agree with ancient religious traditions and philosophies worldwide that joy, love, and peace are fundamental aspects of our spiritual nature. But sadness, anger, and fear are also part of the human condition, and in the process of denying these three emotions and attempting to suppress them, we become our own worst enemies and sacrifice our true nature.
Instead of expressing our emotions we divert the physical expression, jamming up our ability to process experiences naturally. That ‘stuck’ emotional energy clogs up our vital life force and create a society sitting on a volcano of pent-up emotions. You see the fall-out spewed over the airwaves: suicide, domestic violence, gang warfare, road rage, juvenile delinquency, addictions, and on and on. But casualties on our personal battlefields are even more devastating: destructive, love-less and sometimes violent relationships. We can’t enjoy the good times because we’re worrying about what’s next. We berate ourselves mercilessly for making mistakes. Stress-related illnesses eat at our bodies and create dependency on pharmaceuticals. And our lives become inauthentic, driven by negative programs that keep our hearts in pain and our actions problematic.
All the feelings we experience, even if it feels like there are millions of them, break down to just six emotions, each with a distinct wordless, physical expression. Think for a minute about the brilliant colors in the rainbow; light to dark, all can be made from the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. Human emotions are just like that. The combinations are endless, but fundamentally the core is the same: sadness, anger, fear and their counters of joy, love and peace.
We need to shift our attitudes about expressing emotions. Unleashing our emotions in a constructive, natural fashion is the fastest way to limitless potential. Experiencing joy, love, and peace truly gives meaning to life. With full hearts and minds we have the choice of how we want to live each day to our fullest and create our own contribution to the planet and to our fellow beings.
~Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients, students, couples, and families as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Integrating our emotions, feelings, thoughts, speech, and actions, Jude offers both practical and spiritual tools for happiness and a unified theory of human behavior. She is the author of a multi-award winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
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