“Unexpressed emotions will never die, they are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways”Sigmund Freud
If you have a warning light on the dashboard of your car, do you ignore it? Maybe you do, hoping everything will be okay and not wanting to face to time and expense it might take to put it right. Ignoring it might make it go away – right? Unfortunately, that’s seldom true. Warning lights are a signal that something needs attention. It could be as simple as an oil change or a lightbulb replacement or it could be something much worse. But whatever it is, it needs attention. The longer it goes unattended to, the more the damage and expense might be in the long run.
Your feelings are like warning lights on the dashboard; they are a signal that something is going on for you that needs attention. If could just be that you need to acknowledging that you are anxious about something or that you are grieving for a person or situation, or it could be that you need to do more investigation to work out what you are feeling and why. But one thing is for sure – if you bury your feelings you bury them alive which stores up problems for the future.
Studies show that when we deny or suppress our feelings eventually we will end up with bigger problems. Depression, anxiety, issues with anger management, physical health problems, self-harming, succumbing to addictions or acting out in reckless behaviours are all signs that there is something deeper going on that needs some attention.
So what can we do to to begin to understand and process how we are feeling in a healthy way?
Next time you feel churned up inside what is it that you are feeling? Can you link what you are feeling to an emotion. Studies suggest that finding the word that expresses how you are feeling can actually reduce the intensity of that feeling. Are you feeling angry, sad, scared, guilty, lonely, or jealous? Possibly a mixture of more than one of these.
Your feeling are your feelings. They’re not right, they’re not wrong, they just are. Fighting them or denying them actually gives them more power over you. You may not like feeling this way but accepting that you do enables you to begin to work through this in a healthy way rather than spending your energy fighting against your feelings.
If we don’t find healthy ways to express our feelings, we will express them in unhealthy ways. Being resentful, passive aggressive, exploding in anger or withdrawing from people and shutting down, are all ways we express how we are feeling but in a complicated way that others won’t understand. Physical exercise, writing how you truly feel in a letter or journal, letting yourself cry or venting to a friend are all healthier alternatives.
Sometimes feelings get stuck. We don’t know what we feel and it is causing us to behave in ways we don’t like and think thoughts we don’t like thinking. This is when talking to someone can be really helpful to help us unpick what we are feeling and why and what we can do about it. You can talk to a friend or find a counsellor who will be trained to help you understand what you are feeling and what to do about it.
Go with the flow
Sometimes feelings are so big we fear they will be overwhelming. Having someone to talk to can help you navigate difficult feelings and suggest strategies to help you not feel overwhelmed. A helpful thing to remember is that emotions are like waves; they come and they peak, but then they flatten out. Remembering that your feelings will pass will help you to cope when they feel overwhelming.
Feelings can be exhausting. If you are dealing with a lot of emotions right now you need to take care of yourself and cut yourself some slack. Be nice to yourself, plan to do things that you know boost your well-being. And most of all, don’t feel bad for feeling the way you do, feelings are how we know we are alive. Good psychological health is not about feeling good feelings all the time, it’s about allowing yourself to feel the full spectrum of feelings including the difficult and painful ones.