Well-being depends on viewing emotions as helpful pointers

Seeing emotions as negative

Emotions are often regarded as a curse, especially if it is regarded as negative and unwanted. Sharing those feelings with others are frequently avoided, not to risk being seen as weak or lacking confidence, self-control or the ability to withstand everyday pressures. However, should you rather view these feelings as signals and not labels, you open up ways to work towards eliminating them by dealing with the underlying causes.

In this way you can take charge of your mental well-being and also make gains in your physical health.

Negative labeling

People are often called “emotional” and the tone with which the word is expressed, is usually quite condescending or even insulting. The implied meaning is that they are not in control of their feelings and they are labeled incapable of considering situations and facts in objectively or to make decisions logically and in an emotionally detached manner.

Husbands may call their wives “over-emotional” or vice versa, and in the workplace people just love calling others emotional. Being so labeled can can become an obstacle  to developing true intimacy in a marriage, good relationships with your children or advancing in your career.

What an irony that the unconscious motive behind labeling others in this way usually involves emotion! Fear, anger, annoyance, helplessness and even guilt may trigger the accusation.

Emotions have value - but often we teach children the opposite

The unfortunate result is that the idea that emotions are bad and therefore have to be suppressed or denied, is learned from an early age. In an intimate or familial relationship, should you be accused as reacting too “emotionally”, what does it really say? When a parent suggests that the child or teenager is too emotional, the youngster may actually hear: “Your emotions have no value; they are wrong and bad”. Parents may actually not know how to deal with the display (or with the child's experience) of the emotion, whether it be fear, anger or excitement.

It is for that reason that parents often say “Stop being a cry baby!” or “Cut it out!” when a child is unhappy, crying or angry. They may even get annoyed or irritated as they often have no idea how to deal with their own undesired emotions and therefore find it equally hard to comprehend what they are supposed to do with such behaviour in children.

As children, getting the message that emotions are wrong, bad and inappropriate, without receiving appropriate guidance around what the appropriate way is to process these feelings and how to express them, is counterproductive. It does not allow children to develop the necessary skills to deal with feelings appropriately, whether in childhood, as a teenager or adult. During adulthood these same feelings can result in a breakdown of relationships, mental health or even physical health.

Working through emotions using appropriate tools is unfortunately not generally taught as a basic skill during childhood. The focus is placed on teaching those skills that we need to apply when we face an intellectual or practical problem, from tying shoes to reading a map to solving a complex mathematical problem. The tools needed for solving emotional issues can be compared to the ones you use to solve the former – they can range from simple techniques to overcome boredom to more complex ones needed to facilitate understanding and eliminate unnecessary conflict.

Instead of now blaming your parents, consider that they operated from the same limitation and luckily this skill can be learned later in life.

Emotions and Energy

To understand emotions, let’s have a closer look at the word: (e)motion indicates movement; if it involves movement what is in motion? Energy generated by your mood. This energy can be positive or it can range from experiencing a slight discomfort to total paralysis or a violent outburst. It is however, not negative, as all your emotions have a function (the results of unchecked emotions can however be very destructive!).

Energy cannot be contained indefinitely and has to materialize in some way. This response, whether directed inwards or outwards, may be disproportionate to the original cause leading to the experience. To name but a few: health problems such as constant headaches or problems with digestion; relationship issues involving conflict with others or loss of friends; or mental fog and memory loss, preventing you from concentrating on work or other important tasks.

The type of emotions we all experience, ranging from happiness to severe depression, excitement to intense rage, calm to overwhelming anxiety, will evoke in you a unique representation of what each of those emotions feels like. Emotions are labelled for simplicity's sake, in the same way that we label physical objects. But the actual experience may be quite different from that which someone else feels even though we all use the same label to describe our experiences.

When you feel angry, for instance, your experience may see things differently from the next person. The trigger may involve different senses and so too the response. Some people feel the anger on a physical level while others may only experience it on a thought level. While you may suppress the feeling, someone else may burst into tears or react violently. By labeling the emotion we are simply creating a way to communicate what we feel verbally, but language can be quite misleading and may not give adequate expression to the reality of your experience.

Frequently we find it difficult to convey to others how we really feel; more importantly, we often do not know how to deal with the emotions experienced, especially if they are regarded as negative. If we change our perspective and regard them as signals that something is amiss, something that we need to deal with in a constructive manner, for our own sake and the sake of the people around us, we take a step towards understanding and then processing these emotions constructively, improving the quality of our own lives and those of around us.

In upcoming articles we will explore ways to increase emotional awareness and how you can transform negative emotions into more positive experiences by dealing with the underlying causes effectively.

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