In a recent conversation about emotions with a close friend, I realized that when certain emotions appear, we are quick to shame ourselves for feeling what we feel. Why do we do this? In that moment, I encouraged my friend to ride the emotion wave. This concept teaches us how to embrace our humanity and the emotions that happen naturally.
Although human emotions exist, riding the emotion wave requires awareness. Meaning, if the wave of emotion does not dissipate within a reasonable amount of time, it is time to seek support with processing that emotion. For instance, if an emotion puts one in an unbearable state of sadness or hopelessness.
Being human means experiencing a range of emotions – sad, happy, angry, confused, frustrated and the list goes on. We are designed to feel and there is no shame in having these emotions. While it is healthy to identify our emotions, it is not healthy to define/ or judge ourselves based on how we feel at any given time. Our emotions are fleeting (ever-changing with moods and within different contexts).
From the time of birth, we are taught how to express ourselves emotionally. This is called emotional norms. Emotion norms define obligations and duties that govern emotional arousal, expression, and behavior. They imply standards of comparison between what an individual is feeling and what he or she ought to feel in a given social context. Norms of this type go by various names, for instance “feeling rules” or “display rules” (University of Geneva, 2015).
Over time, we undergo emotional socialization and are subject to pressures to conform – taught that some emotions are negative and some positive. And if one deviate from social norms, he or she is stigmatized. Also, depending on the culture in which we are raised, certain emotions are experienced with shame, guilt, or embarrassment. For instance, crying is viewed as a sign of weakness and anger is a lack of self-control. Because of this, many shy away from displaying vulnerability as it is seen as neediness.
Food for thought: countless people put on a strong face while crying inside feeling they must apologize for being emotional or simply for having a moment.
This is called emotional suppression. Emotional suppression is a type of emotional regulation strategy that is used to try and make uncomfortable thoughts and feelings more manageable (verywellmind, 2020). One learned norm in our society is to suppress, not express. Research shows that emotional suppression has long-term consequences. In a Verywellmind article on suppressing emotions and regulation, Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD (2017) posits that trying to push away thoughts and feelings may be create a vicious cycle: You have a painful emotion. You try to push it away. This leads to more painful emotions, which you try to push away and so on.
In being sensitive to own my emotions, I have learned to allow myself to feel and be unapologetically human. I have also became aware that expression of emotions whether verbal or non-verbal is essential. Bottling up emotions is unhealthy. But while releasing emotions, be mindful not to act in a manner that is destructive or hurtful to others.
I inspire the practice of emotional regulation in these ways:
- Writing down emotions/ or feelings in a diary or journal.
- Praying about how you feel and asking for guidance.
- Creating a healthy outlet for expression.
- Talking to a trusted individual.
- Reserving time to be still and feel (process emotions when you are ready!).
- Not being hard on yourself when certain emotions happen.
Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn. (2017, September 17). Suppressing Emotions and Borderline Personality Disorder. https://www.verywellmind.com/suppressing-emotions-425391#:~:text=Emotional%20suppression%20is%20a%20type,thoughts%20and%20feelings%20more%20manageable.
Scheve, Christian von & Minner, Frédéric. (2015, July). Social Norms and Emotions. Paper presented at Bi-Annual Conference of the International Society for Research on Emotion, Geneva, Switzerland.