Do you ever lash out at a person who doesn't deserve it? Overreact to minor incidents? Cry over everything?
Or, do you avoid confronting someone who has hurt your feelings? Not react when something is upsetting? Feel nothing even when you know you should?
Feelings are complicated, but we all have them and they are an extremely important aspect of being a human being. Understanding them is vital. The four main emotions are anger, sadness, fear and joy.
They motivate us, protect us, bond us, but can tear us apart, if not managed properly.
Most people feel uncomfortable around three of the four strong emotions. This discomfort is partly because the expression of a strong emotion usually means something is wrong and needs to be addressed. It is also partly due to the fact that many people were never taught how to express or manage strong emotions.
When something makes us uncomfortable and we don't know what to do about it, we will either avoid it or suppress it.
Unfortunately, avoiding and suppressing emotions both have detrimental effects on relationships and physical health. Those who avoid and suppress strong emotions may think they are dodging the problem, but by shutting off their feelings they can eventually end up with other issues such as stomach problems, heart conditions, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties or self-harming habits.
It might be a surprise for emotion suppressors to know they are not fooling anyone. The people around a suppressor can feel the tension that it takes to hold the emotion back and that tension shuts down communication.
In addition, emotions are faster than thoughts and before a suppressor's mind is able to shut off a reaction, their facial expression and body language has already given them away for a brief instant. The people around the suppressor feel shut out and become confused or uneasy since they can't read the emotion properly or predict the reaction.
Expressing emotions is good for a person and their relationships, but it's easier said than done for these reasons.
1. Anger has a bad rap for being negative and people think they shouldn't feel it.
They especially dislike this emotion if they grew up with violence around them. Anger is a normal human emotion that is designed to protect us and our loved ones from harm. We need it to survive. Although it is wrong to express anger in a violent or destructive way, there is nothing wrong with the emotion of anger.
2. Most people were never taught how to express anger in an appropriate way. It is best expressed physically, such as going for a walk or run, smashing a tennis ball, chopping some wood. Once the physical energy is released, then you can express the emotion though art, journalling, music or talking.
3. Most people have trouble identifying and labelling sensations in their body in order to communicate them as feelings. Half the time they don't know their heart rate is up, they're flushed and sweating, and their muscles are locked up like steel rods. Even when they do know they are feeling anger, frustration, sadness, or worry about an everyday thing, they don't realize there is always a deeper feeling.
The deeper feeling is always hurt or fear. If you can be aware of it, then talk about that feeling and what caused it. It will go away.
Emotions are transient if you express them, but will cause deferred problems if you suppress them. The goal is not to be happy all the time, it's to be comfortable with all emotions and appreciate the message they are sending us.
All the I statements in the world won't help you communicate your emotions if you don't know how you're really feeling, so take the time to check.
Danielle Aldcorn, BSW, MA, is a registered clinical counsellor at Satori Integrative Health Centre, 12004 No. 1 Rd. Follow her on Twitter @drgrahambooks.