Whatever you are feeling is OK.
I don’t think we hear that enough. Instead we’re given subtle and not so subtle messages that it’s unacceptable to feel certain emotions. Good girls don’t get angry. Big boys don’t cry. Don’t be such a coward. That was so long ago. Just get over it. Can’t you take a joke? I’m sure you could add a few to the list.
It’s easy to start believing that when uncomfortable feelings come up it means there is something wrong with us. If only we were stronger, braver, more rational, or more self-controlled we wouldn’t feel like this. If we were good enough we’d never deal with tough emotions.
But what if feeling those uncomfortable emotions means, not that we’re bad or wrong, but simply that we’re human?
In The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar states:
Our nature, and the reality of living, is such that whether we like it or not, we experience the full range of emotion. And if we do not give ourselves the permission to experience it, the inevitable result is intense painful emotions or, perhaps even worse, the failure to feel any emotion at all.
We can’t necessarily control which emotions we experience. (Have you ever tried to will yourself to not be nervous?) But the more aware we are of what we are feeling and what is prompting our feelings, the better we are able to choose how we want to respond.
It’s not realistic to expect ourselves to only experience certain emotions. It’s not helpful to shame ourselves for feeling something we don’t want to feel.
What if we stop evaluating ourselves (and others) on which emotions we experience and instead get really curious about what we are actually feeling, what we can learn from those emotions, and how we want to respond?
Before we can engage with our emotions in a helpful way, we need to be aware of them and able to identify them. This can be a real challenge for those of us who have developed a habit of shoving down our emotions.
Last week we practiced using the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s feelings inventory to build our emotional vocabulary. This week let’s try out another approach to identifying our emotions, inspired by the Drawing Your Mood exercise in The Ultimate Guide to Journaling by Hannah Braime. (Before you decide not to give this a try because you’re not an artist, please know that the point isn’t to create a finished picture, but rather to experiment with expressing yourself.)
Use any medium you want (pencils, markers, paint, glitter, stickers, etc) to create an impression of your mood at the moment. You can use colors, textures, shapes, and even words to represent how you are feeling.
It may be that when you try this you have one particular emotion that is dominant or you might be feeling many different things. Don’t leave something out because it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of your picture. If you try this more than once, your image will likely look different every time as your emotions shift and change.
Remember, this is another way to practice identifying your feelings and to recognize the beauty in the full range of human emotion.
How has your awareness of your emotions changed over the past couple weeks?