Ted Mersino reminds us that emotions are neither good, nor bad. They just are.
When I was growing up, boys and men were discouraged from showing emotions or expressing feelings. In some cases, it was not only discouraged but punishable. Even today, expressing emotions of any kind is a gamble, though expressing happy or angry feelings tend to be more prevalent. The truth is we all have emotions, and emotions are an important feedback loop, allowing us to live happy, fulfilling, and healthy lives.
In a society where emotions are unacceptable or frowned upon, we cut ourselves off from that feedback loop. Instead of expressing or learning from our feelings and emotions, we learn to do something else. We learn to bury them. Burying our emotions is socially acceptable. By burying our emotions, we don’t have to feel them ourselves, make others uncomfortable, risk influencing others to feel their emotions, and we don’t have to feel the reaction of others. The energy, which could be used to create more of what we want in our lives, becomes bottled up inside of us.
The problem with burying our emotions is that they don’t just disintegrate like a corpse in a coffin. Buried emotions tend to stick around. For some of us, they are right below the surface. For others, they go deeper. In either case, buried emotions tend to block us up. They block up the energy and feedback of the moment but also block the likelihood that we will deal effectively with those feelings and/or situations in the future. Unresolved feelings tend to leak out. Quite often the leak will take the pressure off, but it won’t resolve the underlying feelings. In fact, feelings that continue to leak out without resolution can be destructive, to us and others.
For me, my buried emotions tended to come out as anger or a low level depression. As I looked at my pattern over time, I found that there were other feelings below my anger and my depression. Most often those feelings included “sad” and “scared,” with “sad” being the most prevalent. The problem with expressing my buried emotions through anger was the negative impact on my relationships. The negative impact on my relationships in turn impacted the whole of my life.
My unresolved emotions tended to leak out as anger, anger that was not always based on a real situation and anger that was not constructive. It often showed up as destructive anger (e.g., aggressive, passive-aggressive and/or passive). The impact on my relationships was disastrous. It was disastrous because everything we do is based on relationships—our relationship to ourselves, our spouse, our family, our boss and colleagues, friends, etc.
As with any of our emotions, anger, in and of itself, is not destructive. Our feelings, when they arise are neither good nor bad—they are feelings, like looking down and seeing you have two feet. Our emotions can become less than healthy and possibly destructive when we either push them down and they leak out or when we express them in a destructive way.
There are many other ways and variations that our buried emotions can leak out and manifest in our lives. For some, drinking or eating may give temporary relief. For others it can be TV, working, negative self talk, driving fast, porn, shopping, etc. Any emotion—anger or otherwise—that is leaking out, versus being worked through, tends to have negative consequences, (i.e., creating some level of distance from ourselves and from others). The problem with suppressing our emotions or expressing them without resolving them is that they remain as a block to us living fully happy and healthy lives.
In my personal and professional experience working with others as a coach, there is always something to be gained from our feelings and emotions. They provide input as does our eyes, ears and other senses. In most situations, when we pay attention to and take the input from our feelings and emotions, we can learn something and/or use that information to create more of what we want. Feelings provide that information.
Our feelings can inform us of a relationship situation that we no longer want or a new career path we want to pursue. I have worked with individuals who have stayed in jobs or relationships they absolutely dreaded because they never stopped to feel how much they wanted something more in their relationships or career. I have also worked with individuals that have buried their emotions to the point that they are shut down and living a fraction of their potential, taking a back seat to life and others because they have not acknowledge their own feelings and hungers in life.
While suggesting our feelings are an important source of information, it is also important to say we are not our feelings, just as we are not what we see or hear. Our feelings give us input, information, and data. We choose how and if we want to respond.
As boys, and this holds true for girls as well, it might not have felt safe to feel or express our feelings and emotions. As men and women, we can create our own safety. Learning how to express or work through emotions can be challenging and even unnerving in the beginning. We don’t need to dive into the deep end of the pool before we learn how to swim. We can start where we are and go from there.