From the time that we are children, many of us are told things such as, ‘don’t cry, and ‘there’s nothing to be sad about.’
As a culture we are often taught that we should try to avoid unpleasant emotions at all costs. So for many, the primary impulse when experiencing unpleasant emotions is to try to escape from those feelings. This can be through alcohol, drugs, restricting food, binging, busyness, compulsive sex, or a variety of other self-harming behaviours.
I believe that it is far healthier to lean into the pain, rather than trying to numb your emotions. Here are four reasons why it is important to allow yourself to process and experience your true feelings.
The consequences of avoiding your emotions:
1. You don’t know yourself.
This is one of the most important consequences. It includes understanding why you react to different situations, how much or how little things mean to you, and the difference between what you think you want and what you really need.
2. You lose the good, along with the bad.
When you shut down negative feelings like anger, fear, or sadness, you also shut down your ability to experience positive feelings such as joy, love, and happiness.
3. It’s exhausting.
You can distort and numb emotions, but you can’t eliminate them entirely. It takes a lot of energy to avoid having an emotional experience and keep your feelings suppressed. The effort leaves you stressed and drained.
4. It damages your relationships.
The more you distance yourself from your feelings, the more distant you become from others, as well as yourself. You lose the ability to build strong relationships and communicate effectively, both of which depend on being in touch with your emotions.
An integral component of being able to cope with emotions is the practice of self compassion, which is simply treating and responding to yourself the way you would a loved one who was sad or struggling.
You deserve to extend to yourself the same kindness that you would to others that you love. Beating yourself up for feeling sad, anxious, or scared will only make you feel worse. Instead, work to say kind and gentle things to yourself and engage in compassionate acts of self-care.
Experiencing your emotions and being vulnerable with the people that you trust is a sign of true strength, not a weakness.
Ultimately, the way to heal and move through painful experiences is to let yourself feel. You can do this by writing in a journal, through artwork, talking to a friend, or seeking help from a therapist—there are so many healthy ways to process your emotions.
Christina Ramo & Jennifer Rollin.