Emotions Don’t Need To Be Controlled

I think… this may be a very unpopular topic. Certainly, there is more information on the opposite, that you need to control your emotions or they will control you.

As I was researching my blog two weeks ago on how I believe that emotions give us important information about ourselves, situations, and how we are relating to the people around us, I discovered numerous articles, quotes, and books on how to control your emotions so that you can be happy. As if being happy was the only emotion worth having. Didn’t anyone see Pixar’s Inside Out? Don’t they realize the value of ALL our emotions?

Listen to these titles:

  • Seven Ways to Deal With Strong Emotions.
  • Calming Yourself When You Feel Strong Emotions.
  • Five Ways to Get Your Unwanted Emotions Under Control.
  • Eight Negative Emotions Happy People Avoid (I may have to do a post on this one alone!)

Yikes. No wonder we judge ourselves when we’re feeling emotional or assume that something must be done to change what we’re feeling. It’s a message we hear often, women and men both, and I’m starting to think it’s one of the reasons we have so many mental health issues and a huge industry built around managing depression.

I don’t believe we are meant to control our emotions. If emotions weren’t necessary and helpful, one would think over time we would have gotten rid of them. Like Vulcans. Of course, Vulcans always seem to be rather fascinated with the emotions of humans, don’t they?

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this belief in the power of emotions and the pendulum of belief seems to be swinging back in the other direction. Unfortunately, there are still mixed messages in articles on emotional health. In a blog I found on the Huffington Post website entitled “10 Traits of Emotionally Healthy People” one of the traits is:

            They do not try to invalidate their feelings by using logic to stop them.

Now, while I do agree with that statement – because logic and emotion do not tend to make a good mix – I completely disagree with how they explain themselves on this trait:

  • Even if they do not understand or agree or like those feelings, they acknowledge that they exist. They recognize that often uncomfortable feelings aren’t rational in nature, and so using logic to dismantle them can be ineffective.

“Uncomfortable feelings aren’t rational”? That’s ludicrous. Why would comfortable feelings be rational and uncomfortable irrational?  You could easily make an argument for love, which most of the time is quite comfortable, being completely irrational.

The dictionary gives the definition of irrational as: not logical or reasonable; groundless; baseless; unfounded; unjustifiable. This does NOT describe uncomfortable feelings – they can be very reasonable.

I can tell you of a specific instance where very uncomfortable feelings got me out of a dangerous situation. In my early 20’s I went on a date with someone new. I cannot remember how I met this man, but I do remember he was cute and funny and I was flattered he asked me out. Our date started at a bar where we were meeting before dinner. Not long after our drinks arrived I began to feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t sit still or make eye contact for very long. My head was swimming with thoughts and one was clear – You need to get out of here.

Now, there may not have been logic to what I was thinking, but the feeling of danger – even though my date did nothing that I recall to create these feelings – was so clear and strong I excused myself to go to the ladies room, and called a friend (these were the days before cell phones. I had to find a pay phone). I specifically chose a male friend and asked him to come get me, He didn’t question my call for help and was there within 20 minutes saying my roommate had called him and she needed me home immediately. I excused myself and left and never spoke to my date again.

Of course, I don’t know what would have happened – or not happened – if I had stayed. I only know that listening to my emotions, not dismissing them or assuming they were unjustified was the right thing for me.

I’ve tried to control my emotions. I spent years making sure I didn’t cry too much, get upset too easily, or show (or feel) how important someone or something is to me. It didn’t work. All it did was cut me off from a part of me that is as natural and important as breathing and keep me feeling separate and alone for far too long.

I want to change the conversation on emotions from control and managing them to understanding and embracing them. There is so much joy and personal power waiting for us when we do. Join me?

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