Monday, December 12, 2016

Friend ALL Your Feelings

I recently wrote an article for the November/December issue of New Moon Girls Magazine - a great resource for young girls and their parents.

This particular issue is called "The All About Feelings" issue, so I was excited to contribute to this topic. My post is titled "Friend ALL Your Feelings" where I discuss emotions and the importance of recognizing and accepting different feelings. Read the post in its entirety below:

"Every person has emotions—it’s part of being human. We can’t make them go away. We’re born with emotions, just as we emerge with our five senses ready to go. We cherish our ability to see beauty, hear music, smell a rose, taste ice cream, or cuddle a pet. If we lose one of our five senses, we’ll miss out on the information it gives us.

In just the same way, our feelings give us information about the world. Think of emotions like your sixth sense! Here’s an example. Say you’re crossing a street and a car doesn’t seem to be stopping for you. Sight helps you see the car approaching, but it’s fear that makes you jump out of the way. You won’t save yourself by only seeing the car—you need the energy of fear to motivate fast action. 

All our emotions guide us toward action. They send us a message felt in our bodies that will help us best respond to life challenges. All our emotions—including the ones we often want to banish, such as sadness and anger—are actually crucial to our wellbeing.

Knowing your emotions gives you clarity about what’s happening to you. Have you ever listened to a friend who sounds upset and can’t really figure out what’s going on? As you listen, it may seem clear that she’s actually sad. Once you point it out, it’ll make sense, and she’ll likely begin to relax more. Identifying your feelings—and making that process a part of everyday life—will help you make sense of your experiences.
So why aren’t we better at this? I think it’s because we’ve often been taught that emotions are not valuable. They’re seen as disruptive or even bad. Or we’ve had the experience of being dismissed as being “too emotional.” No one wants to be seen as irrational or not taken seriously. Many girls shy away from expressing their emotions because they get criticized for being “over-emotional” or “a drama queen.” Of course, boys get this message, often even more harshly. When they’re expressing normal emotions, they’re told to not “act like a girl.”
These shaming statements make it harder for everyone to accept their natural emotions. That’s bad, because feelings are an honest barometer of how things are affecting us. We need our feelings to feel whole and take action that’s appropriate to us.

Remember in the AWESOME movie “Inside Out” (see it if you haven’t yet) how Joy keeps confining Sadness to smaller and smaller spaces? She wants to deny Sadness expression. So these feelings keep building until Sadness is so heavy she collapses and Joy has to drag her around. This is what happens when we deny our emotions. They don’t really go away, so they make us heavy, stuck, or come out in unexpected ways. When Joy realizes how important it was to let sadness be in charge for a while, things moved forward.

Here are some ways to get ALL your feelings working for you.

  • Make an inventory of which emotions you might suppress or have learned are “bad.” Do you know someone who handles these emotions well? Let them be a model for you. Observe their behavior and reactions, and think of the small steps you could take to be more like them. You could even talk with them about it.
  • Make a list of ways your feelings affect your physical and emotional health. Keeping emotions bottled up almost always gives us bad symptoms. Have you ever been angry at someone (but you deny it to yourself), only to be sarcastic and mean toward them at another time? Hidden feelings often seep out when we least expect it. Remember how Riley in “Inside Out” hid her unhappiness and ends up stealing money from her parents and running away? Avoiding our feelings often ends up making things worse. We can feel anxious, preoccupied, and less in control. Or our hidden feelings can get stuck in our muscles, giving us tight, aching shoulders, jaw, or back. They might reveal itself in stomach problems or headaches. When we hide our emotions, they get lost to us. Instead of identifying them and then being able to problem-solve a solution, we become ill. 
  • Keep a daily chart with a list of your primary emotions on it. Put a check mark on the emotions you felt that day. Notice and jot down where you sensed the emotion in your body. Ask yourself what the emotion was trying to tell you. Let’s say you tend to avoid conflict and hide your anger. As you gain awareness of when you’re angry, you can then imagine different ways you might handle it. Or you might want to ask someone you trust what she or he might do. Get support and talk it out. You’ll also notice that you feel more courageous and confident. You’ll feel more in control and more powerful.  
  • Remember that ALL your emotions are there to help you—even the ones you think are negative. In the movie, Disgust in her glittery green doesn’t hesitate to say when something’s yucky. It’s important to be alerted when something’s distasteful, but also potentially poisonous or dangerous. Shame is another hard feeling, but being embarrassed about our behavior helps us to know not to do it again.

Remember, too, that the emotions you feel at any given moment aren’t meant to last. They’re temporary, and they’ll change and often disappear when we express them and work with them. Then that will leave us with emotional space to relax, be playful, and happier."