If you ever learned how to soldier on no matter HOW you felt, then you may sometimes experience these side effects:
- being unable to name how you feel, even to yourself secretly,
- getting a false read on your emotions,
- not understanding the value of “bad” emotions,
- not letting yourself feel the way you feel because there may be secondary damage, and/or
- not knowing what to do with an emotion — how to deal with it in a healthy way.
If so, you are not alone.
On occasion* still and yet, I can have no idea that I am cold or afraid, I can stifle anger until I explode, and I can be so disinclined to feel loss that I go kind of numb. Back in the day — when ski clothes were uninsulated, roads had no guard rails, my brother repeatedly trespassed onto my side of the backseat with his pinkie, and we moved a lot — these emotional habits made it a lot easier for adults to tolerate my company because I didn’t complain. But they are only a liability now.
That’s why one chapter of one book (Finding Your North Star) changed my life and made me want to study with Martha Beck. It showed me: how to figure out what I felt, that all the emotions are inevitable, and that those feelings are all okay because they lead us through the troubles of this world and straight back into the most pleasant of emotions: joy.
First I learned to classify my emotions into one of four basic feelings (mad, sad, glad, and afraid).
Sometimes, we feel a hybrid of two or more of those feelings. And exploring the more nuanced feelings (e.g., shame vs guilt) may be helpful later, but, for some us, a remedial “Emotions 101” is vital.
Each of the basic emotions is a natural, healthy, helpful response to some inescapable occurrence in the life of a human. The following worksheet guides you through deciphering what has been happening with you [click on image to access a downloadable .pdf]:
Once you’ve identified an emotion, you need to know what to do with it and why. On the following three pages (also adapted from Chapter 8 of Martha Beck’s book), the left column lists the steps to follow — look under the emotion you’re feeling for specifics and for space to write your answers [click on image to access a downloadable .pdf]:
No wonder we sometimes choose depression (masquerading as sadness) to mask anger or fear: it’s hard to take complete charge of our own selves.
No wonder we sometimes choose grimness, bitterness, crabbiness, or meanness (masquerading as justified anger) rather than grief: it’s hard to admit there’s so much loss and so little stability in our loves. It’s hard to admit that this way of the world wounds us.
No wonder we worry and fret (thinking its genuine fear) rather than feel angry or sad: it might cause waves were we to act on anger (change the way we do things) or to simply feel sad (to acknowledge that some thing or some way of life is lost to us).
No wonder we pursue artificial highs rather than deal with the “unpleasant” real emotions that would actually free us up to follow whatever brings us genuine gladness.
And sometimes people have told us that those other emotions are unbecoming or even dangerous in themselves.
No wonder we choose emotion-like neuroses (shown in italics above) to cover our underlying genuine emotions.
“Neurosis is a substitute for genuine suffering.” ~ CG Jung
(No judgement from me here! I have had, and will again have, all of those listed above! They are simply signs we need to check our emotional compass and/or get help from someone if we can’t get unstuck ourselves).
In the end, you, like me, may have experienced how the false versions of the emotions and the repercussions of repressing the emotions cause us to suffer more.
Just knowing there IS a way to handle all of the emotions in a constructive way gives me confidence to look straight at them more and more often. And not only in order to alleviate suffering but because — biggest surprise of all — it turns out ALL of the emotions lead us to our heart desires.
We CAN’T get to our hearts’ desires WITHOUT the unpleasant emotions helping us because life ALWAYS has loss, danger, and injustice.
The unpleasant emotions are the only way to deal with those inevitabilities.
The “unpleasant” emotions are one of the most powerful tools for living as our hearts desire.
I hope this helps you figure out and find your own genuine suffering, as strange as that sounds. Please let me know if you have any questions, I can be of support as you do so, or you want to share your story with me.
*Maybe more than I care to admit! Sorry to innocent bystanders.