Our DPSN theme for August is ‘Connection’. Connection is a hugely important part of the human experience and this month we’ve asked our bloggers to reflect on how they connect to others, themselves or the world around them. We want to hear your thoughts on connection too, so let us know in the comments below, or jump over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.
I spend a lot of time in my work talking to people about how they connect to their internal, emotional world.
I think that on the whole in New Zealand, most people grow up learning very little about emotions. We generally never talk to children about what feelings are, why we might have them, or how to respond to them in constructive ways.
Instead, a lot of people grow up with messages about how best to bottle things up. I think it’s pretty common that we hear about how it’s best not to feel, but if you do, to at least make sure you never share or acknowledge those emotions. Lots of people will be familiar with the old “harden up” and “tough it out” adages. Still today I hear people praise their children for being “brave” by not crying when they are hurt, or telling them off for being overly dramatic or attention-seeking when they get upset.
Not only are these messages unhelpful (because now you have both the original pain plus feeling bad about having the normal emotional response) but they also just don’t work – you can guarantee that no person anywhere can simply “shut off” an emotion just because they don’t like the way it feels.
The truth is that our emotions serve a hugely important purpose. They give us information about the world around us – the nature of our environments, relationships and experiences. They tell us about what we value in our lives, where we find our sense of meaning, connection and purpose; what we hold to be important and also what we don’t. Conversely, they tell us when things are wrong or out of sync, when we are in danger or when we might need to make a change or leave a situation.
They also play an important part in helping to communicate our internal state to our external world. Crying, for example, is not only cathartic but is also a great way to communicate to others without words that you are in need of comfort and support.
It’s also true that our emotions can also lead us in directions we don’t want to go. We might fall in love with the wrong person, feel afraid when we are relatively safe, want to spend all of our money impulsively, say something in anger that we later regret or get so depressed we don’t want to get out of bed, even though we know that it will only make us feel worse.
But there is a difference between acknowledging and connecting to our emotional experiences and letting them lead us wherever they like. I’m not suggesting we become beings of pure emotion and forget all the rest of our thinking and judgement, or consideration of the feelings of those around us. Like most things in life, it’s about a balance between the two.
But I think the more time that we spend trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions, ironically the more that avoidance then drives our behaviour – and our emotions tend to rule us anyway!
But no feelings are bad or wrong, no matter how unpleasant we find them. How we feel is simply how we feel. Our rational mind might not like it or agree with it, but there is always a reason we feel the way we do (even if we don’t know what it is at first). And ironically, the more understanding and kindness we grant our emotions, particularly the uncomfortable ones, the more choice we then have in the behaviour that follows.