Let Your Emotions Teach You

SUMMER 2010 099

Let’s face it, most of us were not adequately taught how to handle our emotions while growing up. Depending on your upbringing, emotions were overlooked, at best; forbidden, at worst; and everything in between. We were not taught how to use our emotions for the best interest of our emotional maturing and spiritual awakening.

We humans are naturally wired for wanting to hang out with good feelings all day long, and avoid feeling bad. Yet our emotions are here to stay for a while, and are actually incredible signs for how to embrace a better way of navigating life!

No one loves to feel sad, angry, frustrated, or afraid. But what if those emotions that we avoid are trying to help us wake up? What if, beyond the physical experience of the emotion, there is a message that is trying to come through? What if there is a slight shift we could make that would bring new understanding, perspective, or positive change?

When we try to avoid feeling an emotion that we judge as “negative”, we are only adding energy to it, and stuffing it back into our subconscious for it to resurface with a vengeance down the road. Fun stuff (not). Allowing an emotion to arise and BE, without getting lost in it, being the curious watcher of it, will allow the message to surface.

How do we let uncomfortable feelings just BE?

1. Notice when you are feeling something. This is not always as easy as it sounds! Our emotions usually have a physical counterpart: butterflies in your stomach, achy shoulders, increased heartbeat, et cetera. The more you pay attention to this body/emotion connection, the more you get to know how and when your emotions are expressing through you.

2. Listen to the emotion. Observe it with compassion, curiosity, and acceptance, like you are watching the wind blowing leaves on a tree. What is it showing you?

3. Determine whether you really need to do something about this feeling. Questions to ask to help you determine this are:

  • Did my emotion dissipate on its own?
  • Am I still feeling the emotion physically?
  • Is there a new perspective I can take that will calm me?
  • Do I need to do some deeper work on this? Forgiveness, grieving, self-acceptance?

Our emotional maturity and spiritual awakening rely on the effort we make toward learning more about what is going on inside our minds and hearts. The more we allow space for our emotions—the fun and not so fun ones!—the more efficiently we can move through them! Give it a try!

2 thoughts on “Let Your Emotions Teach You

  1. Nice! (Now that I finally got here to read it…) I especially like your three suggestions about how to support and make use of negative feelings. I think that for many people the root problem is that they have not learned (by observation of others or by having been taught) that their brain is a self-correcting mechanism. It WANTS to persist. And it self-corrects best when we let it do its thing and just pay attention. Your ideas suggest this, and it’s a rather radical notion is it not?

    One point of difference that I find interesting: Following Siegel and Schore (who are of course standing on the shoulders of others), I think that emotional management is NOT taught at all, but rather is learned.

    Let me make the contrast clearer: I was once a ballet dancer. In ballet we are shown HOW. We are directed. But in Balinese classical dance, the teacher “shows” nothing. Instead, he/she “dances” the student, by shaping their limbs and body and moving them as if they were puppets. The student learns how it feels, not how it looks, and when the feeling is right the look is right.

    As I understand Siegel/Schore, this is how we learn emotional competence. Our parent comes to us when we are emotionally challenged, and communicates to our disturbed little brains, by their own responses verbal and nonverbal, how we need to be to recover. They need not know they are doing this. Not necessary. They merely need to “dance” us into calmness. Done repeatedly, over years, our brain learns the steps, the process, because of the basic principle of operant conditioning: what works and feels good our brain desires to own, to repeat. And it can be very good at stealing our cookies, just like any healthy/stealthy two year old!

    What do you think?

    Fun stuff, yes?


    • Yes, I agree that emotional competence is learned implicitly. Awareness can be worked on explicitly; and, there are always ways to change the brain through mind/body awareness and emotional/trauma processing. We are amazing creatures! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Tom! Always enjoy our exchanges!


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