Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 15 - Feel what you feel

Emotional expression is a difficult thing and for a lot of us, it does not come naturally. For me, it definitely does not! It is a continual process of growth to become comfortable in my own skin and feel safe enough with others to let them in on how I really feel. There are a number of possible reasons some of us struggle with this:

Fear of rejection: If I let someone see who I truly am inside, will they still love me? In fact, will they even like me?? Personally, I don't always think the nicest thoughts and sometimes my emotions get a little confusing, even for me to understand, let alone others. My husband lovingly calls me, "Beautifully Complex." :)

Fear of looking bad/weird/ugly: You know how Oprah has her "ugly cry?" Well I hate to admit it but we all do! No one wants to be vulnerable and then feel insecure about looking weird at the same time! We have reputations to uphold!

Shame/embarrassment: What if the issue I'm emotional about is not "worthy" of my expression? (Look at that, a "what if" to boot)!

Whatever the reason, expressing emotion is hard... but here's the problem. If you don't, your emotions will still find a way out of you some way, somehow. It could be in the form of a headache, tense muscles, fatigue, irritability, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression or some other equally distressing manner. Holding our feelings inside can be incredibly harmful to our overall health and well-being. In fact, as I mentioned earlier in this series, I think one of the primary causes for my own anxiety was an accumulation of stress and a lack of dealing with the many changes going on in my life at the time.

So what now? How do you get over the fears associated with not only expressing emotion but even allowing yourself to feel emotion?

1) Start by journaling what you are thinking and feeling. Do not - I repeat, DO NOT - censor yourself! Your journal is for your eyes only and if you can't be honest on a sheet of paper, you will have a hard time doing it with other people.

2) Know that emotions are okay. I haven't gotten into spirituality much in this blog but I am going to now. Many people, particularly some Christians, believe it is somehow wrong to feel emotion. Feeling angry or feeling sad does not mean you lack faith or are any less of a Christian. Dwelling on bitterness, anger etc. can cause serious damage to our health and relationships, but to not experience them is to not experience fully who God created us to be; we are people, not animals or inanimate objects, and therefore we are capable of feeling all kinds of feelings. Allow yourself to do that. Check out David's range of emotions in the Psalms if you are still not sure... if the man "after God's heart" did it, so can we!

3) If one of the reasons you hesitate to express yourself is because you're not sure what the heck you feel most of the time, check this list of feelings. I found it online but I have given similar lists to clients many times! Increase your Emotional IQ by referring to this list and making a conscious effort to figure out what's going on inside of you. Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

4) Find a safe person if you don't have one already. A spouse perhaps? A close friend? I'll talk about support systems later but having a confidant is crucial for emotional health. Eventually you'll become more and more comfortable expressing yourself on paper thru journaling and once that happens it would be helpful to branch out to talking with a friend or family member. It is a risk and I'm not denying it is scary at first! But again, worth it. Not only will you feel better/healthier, but being vulnerable with others can help develop stronger relationships.

I get it - emotions are a scary topic. I used to oversee a lay counseling ministry at a church and for many potential counselors taking the class, they had difficulty not only expressing emotion but even sitting with someone else while they did. It can be very uncomfortable for people, even those with a desire to serve in a "helping" capacity. But know... it is incredibly important and could be a missing piece in the puzzle that is your struggle with anxiety.

See you tomorrow!


  1. It IS hard being honest with others about our feelings. I worry I'll be mocked or not taken seriously. But if I'm not open, how will they know me? It's something I work at.

  2. I definitely get headaches, muscle aches, and other symptoms when something is eating away at me...I think you're spot on with this post!

    p.s. do you know @GoodGirlGoneRed on Twitter? I think she's in NC, possibly not far from you?

  3. Hmm... I don't know her Erin. I will look her up! Thanks to both of you for the comments! This is something I have to work at too!