Emotions are a huge part of our daily lives. Our feelings let us know we are alive, and help us to connect with others. Emotions are also important indicators of our needs. For example, if we feel angry, we might need to set a boundary or stop an injustice. If we feel scared, we might need to be protected. If we feel sad, we might need comfort.
Even though emotions are incredibly important to our experience as human beings, they can sometimes cause us problems. If your fear of airplanes is so debilitating that you can’t fly to your job interview, that could be a problem. If your road rage is so intense that you get in a fight and end up in jail, that is probably an issue you need to look at.
How can we deal with our emotions in a healthy, productive way? In the book Conscious Leadership, Jim Dethmer talks about three different ways to deal with emotions. Each strategy begins with the letter ‘R’:
1. Repress. Many people repress their emotions. When you repress a feeling, you try really hard not to feel that way. You try to push it down, outside of your awareness. You try to ignore the feeling. We might have been taught growing up that certain emotions weren’t acceptable. Maybe you were taught that it wasn’t okay to be sad, or to be angry. So we get in the habit of repressing our feelings. The problem with this strategy is that repression doesn’t usually work. You might try to avoid experiencing an emotion, but it isn’t gone completely. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball under the water. Usually the emotion comes out sideways.
2. Recycle. Other people recycle their emotions. When you recycle a feeling, you play the scene over and over in your mind. You ruminate about it. You might tell yourself a story about why you are feeling this way, or you might gossip or complain to your friends. Your friends might validate your feeling. Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that person did that! He is such a jerk! You have every right to be furious. The more you talk about it, the angrier you get. The problem with recycling emotions is that the emotion sticks around in your head. You can’t process it and be done with it. Some people have been angry with someone for years (sometimes even long after the person died) because they keep recycling their anger. When you recycle an emotion, it has control of you. You aren’t free.
3. Release. The third way to deal with emotions is to release them. Dethmer describes the process like this.
- First identify your emotion. Then think about the body posture and sound (no words, just sound) that are associated with the emotion you are feeling.
- Then act the feeling out (body posture and sound) with as much force as you can muster. If you do this, most emotions can pass through your body in about 90 seconds, and then you can move on with your day.
I tried this the other day as I drove home from work. I was coming to a stoplight and someone cut me off, almost causing an accident. I was angry. But instead of repressing or recycling my anger, I released it. I thought about the body posture and sound that would represent my anger, and I acted the feeling out, right there in my car. Sitting at the stoplight, right behind the guy who cut me off, I clenched my fists and flexed my arms as hard as I could, and I screamed at the top of my lungs. (If someone walking down the sidewalk saw me, they probably thought I was crazy.) Then I screamed again. And again.
I didn’t know I had that much anger inside of me. But by the time the light turned green, I felt free. I even chuckled to myself as I drove off. My anger was released.
- When you feel emotion, what is your usual response? Do you tend to repress, recycle, or release your emotions?
- Next time you feel overwhelmed by an emotion, think about the body posture and sound that would best represent that emotion. Then act it out and don’t hold back.
By Joshua Hook
Joshua completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2010. He is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas. Through his writing and speaking, he helps men step forward into healing and growth. Follow Joshua’s blog and download his free e-book ‘A Journey of Healing and Growth’ at http://www.JoshuaNHook.com.
Photo Credit: John Greenfield via Creative Commons