As a therapist, I find that the cause of many mental health issues is not the emotion one naturally feels about an event or situation, it is the reaction to this initial or primary emotion. Often for people experiencing panic, it is the fear or embarrassment of having the panic symptoms that becomes problematic. For depression, it may be the shame of feeling sad, which prompts even worse sadness and lowers self-esteem. The first step in therapy is most frequently addressing the reaction to our own natural, understandable feelings. In short, ineffective internal responses to feelings we have are the underlying issue in many mental health diagnoses.
As a result, I think a lot about why we are so ineffective at accepting, managing, or feeling our emotions. Why do we feel shame, anger, fear, or guilt about having feelings? For me, this is an issue that is much bigger than any one individual. It is a societal issue about how we think about emotions. Frankly, I think we as a culture have a messed up view of emotions and how they function in our lives. Instead of seeing our emotions as generally informative and natural, we have framed them as being unhelpful and shameful. People often believe having feelings is weak, irresponsible, or dramatic. We can see emotions as being extraneous to our goals and lives. You can see why they become something that people try to avoid.
It is this avoidance that creates a whole other level of problems. In avoiding feelings, which are a normal and healthy part of being human, we do things that truly wreak havoc. Suppressing feelings has become something of a national past-time, from what I can tell. Substance use, gambling, over-working, staying excessively busy, trying to achieve the impossible goal of “perfection” can all lead very quickly to numbing and disconnection. This disconnection occurs not only from our own emotional selves, but also leads to disconnecting from others.
This is a fundamental problem leading to a lot of human suffering. But I still have a lot of hope. I think that this issue is not widely understood and in helping people gain an understanding, things can change. In fact, that’s why I started this blog. For me, its a small way of trying to show other ways of thinking about ourselves and our emotions. I guess I’m a PR manager for emotions. They need a new, more realistic image. I’ll try to do my part.
What to you think? Why do emotions get such a bad reputation?