Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The role of Emotions

Turn towards emotions rather than away from them

In the end, we cannot avoid emotions, we can only experience them. Trying to suppress emotions may feel like a good short-term solution but is often unhelpful in the long term. If feelings are there, then they are there. Trying to suppress them usually leads them to “slip out sideways” at a certain point. Also, we never get to have information or evidence that challenges the prediction of what would happen if we didn’t use avoidance (e.g. we might learn the emotions are not as overwhelming as we had imagined them to be). Emotions have a purpose and help to organize us in some ways. For instance, if we feel fear we prepare ourselves to escape a threat. If we are sad often it is because we have been wounded and need to heal. Anger might help prepare us for a challenge or obstacle we need to overcome. Attempting to resist or avoid unwanted feelings may actually intensify and perpetuate distress, rather than help resolve it. Experiencing a feeling can help to let go of it. Rather than trying to push them away, allow yourself to feel your feelings. You will likely realize that while emotions can be very unpleasant: a) they are tolerable and b) they subside. Consider this as well: people often avoid emotions and mistakenly believe that by doing so they are exercising greater “control” over them. But in fact, the opposite is true. We have control over our emotions when we make a conscious choice to allow ourselves to experience them. It is the difference between dipping your toe in the water to see if the temperature is ok vs. being pushed into the pool unexpectedly.

Lee M. Stillerman, PhD