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What Are Our Emotions Trying to Tell Us? (Part 2)

In Part 1, I mention that emotions are beyond the binary of good and bad. This can be a complicated concept to wrap our minds around, especially because we know when an emotion feels pleasurable and when it feels unpleasant in our bodies. There’s a physiological difference between feeling sad and feeling joy, for example. Sadness can feel like it shrinks us and weighs us down, joy expands us, and lifts us up. And so, when we experience emotions that are unpleasant, overwhelming, confusing, or frustrating, we will often express a desire to stop feeling them.

“Emotions are beyond the binary of good and bad” does not mean that they aren’t supposed to feel good or bad within us. It means that emotions that feel unpleasant in our body still have an immense amount of value and can be a potent medicine, when we truly listen to them and allow them to move through us, to guide us.

So what can our most thwarted emotions offer us? Below, I will outline some of the lessons that I, and my clients, have learned from our anger, grief, and shame.

Anger - Anger is a teacher of boundaries. It is a fierce protector. Anger appears when justice has been denied, your values have been wronged, or when your more vulnerable emotions don’t want to be exposed. Suppressing our anger can lead to depression (anger turned inward), and can sometimes somaticize into disease. Or, it can lead to inappropriate outbursts and lashing out at others. These are both signs that you have been chronically ignoring your own limitations and feelings.

If we listen to our anger, if we notice when it arises and remain curious about why it’s showing up, we can learn a lot about our own needs and desires.

Grief - Grief is a natural response to losing something that you love, or could have loved. It pops up in unexpected ways throughout our lives and is ever-present, if we’re paying attention. Repression of grief can lead to depression and anxiety - a constant, gnawing fear of the depths of our own love and potential pain. We grieve the death of a loved one, we grieve something we thought we had but never did, we grieve the paths we didn’t take, we grieve the selves we leave behind, we grieve the suffering of our planet, and so on. Grief is an acknowledgment of what we value, it is an honor that we pay to the things we care about.

By connecting with our grief, we get a clearer picture of how to move forward. Absence breeds longing, and longing lights our way towards healing.

Shame - Shame is the belief that we ought to hide the parts of us that make us who we are. It is an abandonment of the self. It may have been useful to younger versions of ourselves that craved belonging with people that we knew (or believed) would not or could not accept all parts of us.

When we truly sit with our shame and dig up its roots, it reveals all of the parts of us that we have kept hidden away, for maybe even longer than we remember. It gives us an opportunity to meet those parts, to learn to love them, and maybe even to show them to the people we trust. Shame makes way for dignity.

We all likely experienced these challenging emotions at some point in our early lives, when we were too young to know how to listen to them. If we were raised by people that didn’t know how to feel theirs, we likely did not learn how to feel ours effectively. And so, we give them too much power or we pretend we don’t have them at all, and we end up misunderstanding or ignoring the messages they are sending to us.

With time, patience, gentleness, and courage, we can learn how best to listen so that we are no longer ruled by them, and still remain well-protected and well-guided.

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