In my recent bout with depression, one of my mentors gave me some amazing advice. She asked me how it would be if I experienced emotion without placing meaning onto it.
For a second, I blinked, blank-faced as I tried to process it. What did that even mean?
She went on to explain that emotions are there to help us work through things and to get our needs met, and maybe that’s all they mean. By telling ourselves that we are X, Y or Z because of our emotions, we pigeonhole ourselves into that meaning; we create that reality for ourselves.
As I felt the heaviness of depression, I told myself I was depressed and so that meant I was losing it again. It meant I was a failure, a fraud, a dramatic crybaby, a loner unworthy of friendship because I’d just be a burden…
When I took my mentor’s advice, I set myself free.
Those meanings I placed onto my feelings lifted and I was able to experience the emotions without labeling what I was because of them. It was the beginning of my rise up out of the darkness.
Whenever we start feeling emotional, a host of automatic thoughts starts telling us what that means about us:
You’re such a dramatic crybaby.
Look at you breaking down again. You’re pathetic.
No one wants to be around someone who cries all the time.
You’re weak. Everyone else can keep it together except for you.
Believe it or not, these attacks were formed as ways to protect ourselves. Along the journey of our lives, we’ve developed fear of emotion because we’ve been taught that emotions make us someone we don’t want to be. We’ve learned what it means to be someone who cries too much or throws tantrums, and we don’t want to be perceived that way. Our all-or-nothing thinking leads us to the extreme belief that to ever feel emotion is to become that kind of person (with no regard to balance). These fears have kept us safe at one point or another, whether it be from bullies at school or from rigid bosses at the office.
But now they keep us in pain. When we don’t let the emotions out, they stay with us until we do.
It’s essential to allow our emotions to flow through us in order to heal from them. When we stifle emotion, we create emotional and physical blocks that lead to worse maladies. None of it will ever go away until we honor what we need to feel.
While feeling emotion is not the easiest thing in the world (when you’ve spent a lifetime trying not to), it can be a bit less difficult if we choose not to attach personal meaning to it.
What would it be like if you could be in your emotional state without labeling who you are because of it?
What would it be like to be present with your sadness, anxiety, anger and happiness without shaming yourself into a box?
Emotions occur in every single one of us. Stigma tells us that we shouldn’t let it out; that we should “stay strong” and suck it up.
Strength isn’t looking the other way when needs demand your attention. Staying strong means standing tall in the chaos of emotion and allowing ourselves to be taught what it’s here to teach us.
Emotions are signs sent from our truth to tell us that something is off. When we ignore emotions, we ignore our next steps. We turn a blind eye to the natural process of Universal direction.
When we listen, however, we can hear where we’re being led.
If you take away one action from this post, let it be to experience your emotion when it arises without telling yourself that it means something about who you are.
You are who you are. Your emotions are what they are. One doesn’t make the other worth any less.