June 21, 2016

Making Peace with Our Emotions.

woman hair flowers

Growing up, I was often criticized for being “too loving,” “too cheesy” or a “cry-baby.”

This happened regularly, to the point I believed these traits to be real, and began to see them as bad aspects of my personality. My body started to reject any emotion that I believed not to be socially acceptable. These beliefs changed when I started to realize that cheesy, loving and “cry-baby” is what makes us empathetic people—and this is the exact trait that gave me the drive to study psychology and work with kids.

It turns out that these were not bad traits at all, nor did I have a special condition.

Emotions are natural reactions, and like most of natural forces, we need to let them flow. They do not arise to be avoided, skipped, justified or postponed.

I learned the hard way that each emotion we try to ignore only persists.

We live in a society that encourages us to mostly just “be happy.” Even though this stimulation comes from the best intentions, I believe this has an unconscious effect of leading us to perceive negative emotions like sadness, anger, disappointment as bad for us, instead of looking at the bigger picture. I grew up in an environment in which adults were not taught to validate. I don’t blame them, validation is like education, it is taught.

When I was in elementary school, I’d hear teachers say “pretty girls don’t cry”—so crying got to feel like an embarrassment. On the other hand, we are used to encouraging words from friends filled with positive intentions of cheering. Phrases like “don’t feel sad” may spring from good intentions, but are not actually supportive because of one simple thing: they don’t acknowledge the emotions. The truth is that something magical happens when we substitute such expressions for supportive ones, “I am here for you,” “it’s okay if you want to cry,” and “the same happened to me once.”

Here I share what worked for me when I started the long but satisfying process of making peace with my emotions:

Pay attention

Masking our emotions and ignoring bad situations does not make them disappear. A common self-defense mechanism is to minimize our perturbations, hide them and/or act like they are not there. Paying attention to how we feel helps us discover the causes of our feelings.

When I am not able to recognize the root of my feelings, I spent time alone and in silence. People would ask me why I felt the way I did—and I truly did not know how to answer. I was too disconnected from myself and way too focused on everybody else’s situations, which lead me to realize that I was not spending enough time with myself. So, I took myself for coffee, watched movies, went shopping, bought a book and exercised. Consequently, I started to recognize my likes, dislikes, wants, need, pleasures, among others.

This is a process that never ends—since things are constantly changing, we never really finish knowing ourselves.

Take regular recharge days

Sometimes we need weeks, days or hours to recharge our batteries. It’s okay if we want to spend a whole weekend in our if we feel sad, frustrated or maybe both. It’s also okay to recharge when we feel disappointed and want to spend time by ourselves to think things through.

Giving us the chance to let things be and accept them as they are is all part of making peace with our emotions. What we can control is the decisions we make after being emotionally reactive. What we decide to do with the problem and how we prevent the detonator from activating, it can be a situation, a person, a perception or believe.

Thoughts and emotions

Our thoughts are directly connected with our emotions. It is as simple as this: if we think that yelling is disrespectful, there’s a pretty good chance that we are going to get angry if someone shouts at you. But if we grew up thinking that people shout when they are happy, this is not going to detonate a negative reaction.

When we transform our beliefs, our reactions change too. This is a long-term process—it won’t just happen overnight. But when we start and we begin to see the results and how beneficial they can get to be, we don’t stop.

Soul Cleaning

This might be the most challenging part. Making deep changes to our surroundings and routines is never easy—it takes a lot of courage and determination, but it can be as simple as changing a morning route to work that has less traffic because the other one used to detonate stress and anger.

Altering small things like this can bring life-changing rewards.

In the same way, we can make the decision to distance ourselves from people that constantly feed our negative emotions. Is not simple, is not easy but necessary. This basically means moving away from everything and everyone that constantly detonate negative emotions in our lives to make space for things and people that promote our well-being and growth.

When I found the type of books, music and people that made my heart smile, life became easier.

“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.” ~ Brian Jacques, Taggerung


Author: Carolina Peña Jiménez

Image: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser at Flickr 

Editors: Renee Picard; Caitlin Oriel

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