The Latin word for emotion is esmovoir and it translates as; to set in motion, to move the feelings. Emotions are powerful motivators – they move us to action – be that good, bad, or ugly, reaction or response, emotionally intelligent or emotionally dense – emotions are the embers of change and of action.
And yet, ironically, most of us live in a social setting where emotions (especially the more difficult ones) are viewed as messy – things to be kept private, packed up, and kindly out of sight, thank you very much! Feeling fearful? Sad? Depressed? Angry? Just smile and keep going. Fake it till you make it! Shove it down and solider on (with a smile, don’t forget the smile).
And so, with smiling faces, we shove, stuff, numb, tuck, and hide until we can’t. We eventually reach the point where our hiding places are full. We’ve shoved too much, for too long and there is simply no. more. room.
Emotions are going to come out – We know, as sure as we know the sun will rise tomorrow, that fear, sorrow, sadness, grief, and anger are going to find a way to express themselves – albeit, oozing out sideways, in a blaze of glory, or in silent soul sucking death march – they won’t stay stuffed (even if we keep smiling). Guaranteed.
Here are but a few examples of how emotion move us to action, even while believing we are doing a great job of stuffing and putting up our vulnerability shield:
- Over eating
- Not eating
- Lashing out
- Road rage
- Increased drinking/smoking
- Judging (of self and others)
- Criticizing (of self and others)
- Feeling constant stress
And here’s the irony, when we act like nothing is wrong and pretend we are fine, we actually make ourselves more vulnerable. Research demonstrates that far from being an effective shield, the illusion of invulnerability actually leaves us more vulnerable because we weaken our trust, our relationships, and our faith in others and ourselves – we weaken our sense of belonging (Brown, 2012).
Our emotions are not right or wrong, they are our truths. They are personal based on our own experiences in life, our needs, beliefs, and resources. To not feel (or to pretend to not feel) is to be dead or sociopathic (I’m not sure which is worse). As Dr. Brene’ Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, writes in her book Daring Greatly, “ Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe that vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the cost will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. “ She goes on to write, “ We’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities (Brown, 2012).”
So if stuffing and hiding aren’t the answer, then what is? Actually, the answer appears quite simple. Although we know its simplicity is an illusion since much of the work must be done while swimming against currents our societal mainstream. The answer – We must be willing to be vulnerable.
- We must be willing to honor that being vulnerable and owning that vulnerability takes great courage – for others AND IN OURSELVES.
- We must stop expecting a forever smile – that all days are sunny and cheery and anything less than feeling good is bad. Feeling sad is just as valid as feeling joy. Feeling pissed is just as valid as feeling pleased.
- We must build our tolerance for emotions by sitting in the messy discomfort of vulnerability.
Why is this so important – because, lest we forget, eMOTIONs move us to action.
With this knowledge, we can be in control of the action – moving from reaction to response. We can choose the action, ultimately building and enhancing emotional intelligence. Being present with our feelings allows us to then choose our response to emotions, rather than letting our emotions choose our reaction.
To be present with emotion:
- Breathe. Deep belly breaths.
- Name it. Hi fear, anxiety, and discomfort. I hear you. I feel you. I see you. This is what being vulnerable feels like for me. It’s really uncomfortable and I’d rather pretend that everything is grrrrrreat!
- Own it. I’m not going to stuff you away though. This is my story and I get to write the ending. I’m not going to yell at my partner, or peel out as I leave the parking lot, bury my face in ice cream or lattes, and I’m certainly not going to just smile and numb out. I’m going to sit here and breathe until I can make MY CHOICE, the right choice, the one I won’t regret tomorrow, the one that moves me forward.
Neuroscience for Everyday People
Brown, D. B. (2012). Daring Greatly. New York, NY: Penguin Group.