How can we know if we fear facing our emotions?
Many of us are so estranged from our feelings, that we even aren’t aware that we are fighting the need to feel ourselves. The fear of emotions is real and is often born in childhood. Our caregivers tell us ‘Don’t be a cry baby‘ or ‘Grow up‘ or ‘Stop pestering me or wee willy winkie will come and take you away‘. These sort of statements either instil fear in us or tell us that we are not loved unless we conform to some standard. This puts love in an parenthesis of conditionality. As children, we get the subliminal message that we are loved only if we are good. And since we aren’t always good, we must be unlovable. Parents unwittingly instil a sense of inferiority and unworthiness in us.
Over time, as we grow into our early teens, the developing mind takes the form of a well-developed ego. Understand that the ego thrives on two fundamental emotions – the fear of losing something or being found out and the need to add something, to complete oneself. The inherent lack of unconditional love in our childhood from our parents and teachers transmutes itself into a protective show of strength and superiority, which is the ego. Know that this is a mask for deep feelings of vulnerability. And haven’t we all seen teens in a bad mood. They fly off the handle, shout, rebel, or bang the door in anger.
Anger is a substitute for feeling your emotions. Most people who fear facing emotions have anger as the dominant emotion. Anger is essentially a volcano. It starts as impatience, then minor irritability which builds over time, and explodes as anger. Or worse – rage. Anger is rooted in perfection. That is, wanting things to be in a certain way. And what happens when things aren’t in the way we want them to be? It creates strange feelings in us. And we cannot or rather do not want to feel these feelings. We become irritable with the emotions within us. This irritability then spills out as anger on the external world. Know that in essence, we are angry at ourselves. We are telling ourselves this ‘Why do you feel these horrible sensations? I want to get rid of them – NOW‘.
Observe yourself. Is anger your dominant emotion? Is there no other feeling you feel strongly? Then there is a fair chance that you are avoiding emotions. Become aware of this phenomenon in yourself. Awareness is the birthplace of change. Awareness brings us the ability to witness ourselves. This is something that is privy only to humans. This is what makes us human. We can start by reflecting on the anger once it is passed. Once we’ve cooled off, we can sit in a quiet corner, preferably with a notepad, and rewind the events that led to the explosion. This retrospective introspection is critical to begin to develop awareness. We begin to do it after the event. Soon, we gain the ability to do it while the event is taking place. We can watch the anger rise in us and then gently ebb away. This is the epitome of taking back control. This is the beginning of a life that can be called the flowering of humanity.
Many people say that anger must be expressed. Yes true. It is definitely better than being bottled up. However, expressed anger comes with consequences. Consequences in relationships – both personal and professional. Most of us would not want the repercussions of anger, which we are bound to regret in due course of time.
Therefore, retrospective awareness of the anger is the first step. The second step is to begin to welcome emotions in you. How can we do this? Here the great Persian poet, Rumi, can guide us. In his, now-classic poem, The Guest House, he says:
The key here is this: Welcome and entertain them all. Let your mind and body be an open invitation to all that comes. And all that comes is a guide from beyond. Our task is to humbly learn from each emotion, without any judgment of ourselves.
This attitude scares us at first. We aren’t used to this. Our parents always judged us. Our teachers graded us into good boys and bad boys. We were always classified based on our talents. We need to reprogram ourselves from this core belief. We are beautiful the way we are – and this includes any emotions that we may have (and yes, including anger too). When we take this attitude of non-judgment towards our feelings, we begin to experience a newfound sense of vulnerability. Vulnerability does not indicate that we are weak. Vulnerability indicates that we are strong enough to face our darkest facets of our being. And with vulnerability comes freedom. Freedom from running away from tough things in life. This is when life begins.
Haven’t many of us run away from relationships? Ghosted our partners. Why do we do this? It isn’t that we don’t care. We do. This stems from our inability to face this person and say, ‘I’m sorry I let you down.’ And we can’t say this because it makes us feel strange and funny. Take a pause. Just imagine, if we were to take a welcoming attitude to these strange feelings. If we were to allow them to exist within us. What would be the impact on our relationships, both at home and at work?
The freedom this brings us is wonderful. Our relationships are transformed. We don’t run away from situations when the going gets tough. We don’t shout at people. We ride through the storm, with a smile, Dumbledore-like. We realise that nothing can truly impact us. We become the pillar of strength to people around us. This is the birth of leadership. This is the only way societies can be transformed.
Befriend your emotions. This is the only path to freedom.