Emotions begin in our bodies with a feeling, with a sensation. To effectively experience our emotions, we must go first to the sensations.
What do I mean by “effectively experience our emotions”? An emotion is a signal from our body that something is occurring inside us that wants our attention. If we feel pain in our finger, we look there and see it’s bleeding. Then we clean it and put a bandage on it, we take care of it. It’s the same with emotions.
We feel a churning in our gut, and clench our fists, and we have learned or trained ourselves to label this as anger. Or we notice our heartbeat quickens and we become more alert, and we call this fear.
Many of us focus on the labeling process and then try to somehow get rid of the feeling. We think a lot about it, we recount or make up stories, we get involved with planning what to do, or we distract or numb ourselves so we stop feeling the sensations.
This kind of labeling (I feel sad) is useful. It brings a granularity to our internal experience, it conceptualizes it, and it helps us organize it. Mankind Project teaches a simple model or organization that is useful. Mad, Sad, Glad, Fear, Shame are the 5 main emotions, the primary colors. You take your internal experience and select one of those five. This is very handy, and not as easy as it seems. My experience is that many men have a difficult time even narrowing it down to one of these five.
Emotions do have a frequency or a vibration. A signature. The sensations associated with joy are much different than the sensations of fear. Every time. It is very useful to learn to recognize the different frequencies that you experience.
Also, there are no “bad emotions”. This is contrary to what almost everyone believes, deep down. Most people judge that anger and fear are bad, and they want to get rid of them. They might disagree with this statement, but if you look at how they behave in relation to these emotions, you will see something different. There is a stuffing of the emotion, a desire to avoid it, to move on from it.
There are other models of emotions. One even more basic one is that all feelings are from either love or fear. A Course in Miracles and other systems (from the sect that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls) use this.
Models can be very useful and there is no “right” one.
The problem is that most people strive to get the correct label on the feeling, and then ignore the sensations. We conceptualize and then forget about our bodily sensations. We have been trained to do this. We have been told for years “Don’t cry”; “Hold your temper”. “Wipe that smile off your face.” ; “Your dog died 6 months ago—get over it.”
If we feel something we are calling anger, our job is to let ourselves deeply feel it. It’s not something to get rid of, or to think away. Instead, it’s an expression of our aliveness as a human being. Go into it. Feel it more deeply than you ever have. Befriend it. Ask it directly, why are you here, what can I learn from you.
Our deep feeling of the sensations of a given emotion are what let it transform. Rather than holding back, let the tears of grief come. You know how much better you feel after a good cry. You are renewing yourself. Healthy expression is the key. If you are angry, this doesn’t mean screaming at your mother-in-law. Maybe you need to get by yourself and yell, or clench your fists, or go to the gym and hit the punching bag. And it might mean having a direct conversation with her.
But the feeling itself is not something to get rid of. Rather, it is something to more deeply experience. It is an opportunity to more deeply be alive and genuine. When you let yourself feel what you feel, you gain power and freedom.
Emotions are energy in motion. They have a wave-like movement to them. So if you can just stay with the intensity of the feeling, it will crest and then subside. This is where the healing comes. This is where the transformation and change occurs.
Our unexpressed emotions, the ones we will not let ourselves really feel are where our problems begin. Unexpressed, bottled up anger leads to rage and all sorts of sideways behaviors that suck our life energy and keep us from achieving what we really want. This is true for all of our emotions.
Want to learn more?
I really like The Language of Emotions by Karla Mclaren…
Just released, and a new take is How Emotions are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett…