Unfortunately, most of us are struggling with our emotions. I think this is because emotions have been vilified in our culture. Often clients come in asking to get rid of feelings or to “manage” them. This isn’t wrong or bad necessarily, but it represents the type of relationship we we have with our emotions: we see them as a nuisance, something that “gets in the way” of our lives. They are to be controlled or eliminated.
This is an unhelpful stance. Emotions are not negative or extraneous, but rather an important aspect of being human. Emotions give us information that is impossible to perceive in any other way. However, we cannot utilize information that we are pushing away, ignoring, or numbing out. These are the big ways people often choose to respond to emotion. This represents a lost opportunity.
What kinds of information can emotions give us? They give us clues about our physical and emotional well-being. They give us a sense of preferences. They help provide motivation. They help us spot problems before they happen.
For example, if I notice feeling excited and energized doing a certain activity, this may be information about how I can pass my time in the most satisfying way. It may help me choose a hobby or career I enjoy. Or, if I notice I’m on edge around a co-worker, this may give me information about how much to trust this person. These are simple, everyday examples, but it gives you a sense of how emotions are what help us determine what to do, who to talk to, what direction to take, and how to approach a problem.
Emotions provide us clues. They can be a helpful “heads up” for figuring out our lives. However, they don’t always give us answers. We need our cognitive skills for understanding what emotions mean. But to get to this point, we need to first register what the feeling is, to really feel it fully, and then we can get to the business of figuring out what the clue means.
It is really important to get savvy about our emotions because they are best interpreted from previous experiences. We need a catalog of emotional experience to be able to best understand what our feelings are about and how they function.
Dawn Clancy did a great job explaining this in her recent post featured on this blog. She talks about how she has learned to respond to emotions by sitting with them instead of responding in unhelpful ways. She has learned that sometimes feelings just need to be felt in order for them to pass. In short, she has built a catalog of emotional experience to know how to most helpfully work with the feelings. It’s not easy, but it is much better than continually responding in unhelpful ways.
By being aware of our emotions and letting them register within us by actually feeling them, we create a database. This database can help us understand what the feeling is, where we feel it, and under what situations. We can start to see patterns and even find the origin of the feeling.
If we don’t develop this database of emotional experiences, we tend to misinterpret our emotions or tune them out. Not feeling our feelings leads to big problems. We tend to misinterpret what’s going on for us emotionally and, not surprisingly, we make bad decisions based on bad information. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Learning about what information your emotions are providing is the key to making better life choices.
What would happen if you decided to see emotions as information? What might that change in your life?