How to Get Comfortable With Difficult Emotions

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The ability to handle feelings  – our own and those of others – impacts everything we do. This kind of “emotional intelligence” predicts our personal and professional success. How “smart” we are in dealing with emotions sets the stage for how well we cope with and enjoy life.

But feelings are subjective. What makes one person feel overwhelmed makes another person feel energized. That’s why feelings are never right or wrong. They encompass how we experience the world.

Unfortunately, many people spend their entire lives trying not to feel because it’s too uncomfortable. Men get socialized from a young age to not show emotions. Some people use humor or story-telling to avoid sitting with intense emotions. Over time, downplaying how you feel just stops working.

In this blog you will learn how to get comfortable with difficult feelings and prevent potential problems in the future.

The Impact of Denying Emotions

Growing up in dysfunctional families often leads to emotions being devalued. The adults become the only ones allowed to have feelings. Societal messages such as “be nice” or “children should be seen and not heard” teach children that it’s better to keep quiet. And they do!

When emotions are denied, they will come out in unhealthy ways. As children, unexpressed feelings create tension in the body and get expressed physically with stomachaches or a lack of energy. As adults we might use sarcasm or guilt trips to get our point across. These passive-aggressive tactics hurt relationships and our sense of self.

When we can’t be honest about how we feel, it difficult to feel good about ourselves and form healthy connections. By ignoring our emotions, we end up feeling invisible, like our needs don’t count. Even our physical health gets impacted as stress-related illnesses are now linked to suppressing emotions.

As a result, you don’t feel emotionally centered. For instance, have you ever tried to hide how upset you are only to feel crappy for the rest of the day? Denying emotions is like denying a part of yourself and that makes it harder to be present and enjoy life.

What We Learn About Feelings in Childhood

As children we soak up everything from watching the adults around us. Parents, grandparents and siblings become important role models for how emotions are handled. Whether they are valued, discouraged, or dismissed - children see it all.

How your family (or caregivers) handled emotions created a template for how do to feelings. Even if you decided to purposely do the opposite of what you witnessed - the opposite of dysfunctional behavior is still unhealthy.

For instance, a child with a stoic parent – someone who never complained or expressed emotions– could have learned to suppress his or her feelings. A raging parent – someone who models abusive anger – would frighten a child and make them feel unsafe. Children under these circumstances either repeat the rage in their own relationships or spend years denying their own anger.

In homes where parents ignored their feelings, a child may feel anxious, depressed, or have the belief that feelings show weakness not strength. Suppressed feelings can be the first step in developing addictions or unhealthy behaviors later in life. When feelings are denied, we automatically create tension and over time that creates problems.

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What Happens When Feelings are Minimized

Be a man. Don’t be so sensitive. Suck it up.

These messages are everywhere and no one is immune. They are in the background of our society. When feelings are minimized or discounted, you become disconnected to that part of you. At first, you might assume these feelings will go away on their own but then something else happens and you have to work harder to squelch how you really feel. Before you know it you snap back in anger and you think, where did that come from?

Another reason people deny emotions is to avoid conflict and please others. When this becomes a habit, it starts the cycle of codependency; such as people pleasing and negating your needs for the sake of others. Emotions help us to prioritize what we need but when they are ignored, self-care becomes much more difficult.

How to Get Comfortable with Emotions

A simple way to get comfortable with emotions is to pay attention to your body. Each feeling shows up differently. For instance, anxiety and fear are often felt in the stomach. Joy tends to radiate from the heart outward. Anger gets experienced as tension in the neck and shoulders.

Practice sitting quietly and tune in to how your body feels. Notice any tension and focus on that part of the body to see what feeling surfaces. Try not to judge the feeling since there are no bad or wrong feelings. Even anger is trying to tell you something.

With difficult emotions like fear and anger, give yourself plenty of time to practice good self-care. it’s okay to excuse yourself and take a few minutes to calm down. Because fear can be debilitating, it’s a good time to reason things out with a trusted friend. On the other hand, when you’re feeling angry, taking a brisk walk while listening to some upbeat music can get the energy out of your body.

Although there are similarities, each person experiences emotion in their own unique way. This can depend on several factors; family of origin, ethnicity, personality style, socio-economic class, etc. Be open to learning about your particular dance of emotions.

How to Check in with Your Feelings

Another tip is to be more vulnerable in social situations. For instance, when was the last time someone asked “How are you?” Did you gave an honest answer? Most people reply with a “I’m fine” no matter what is going on beneath the surface.

But what would it be like if you took the risk and admitted how you really feel? Often, this gives the other person permission to do the same which creates more intimacy. If they react negatively, remember that they might struggle with feelings too.

Final Thoughts

Connecting to our emotions is worth getting past the initial discomfort. Though it takes time, being able to recognize and deal with our emotions helps us build a stable foundation that increases our self-esteem and deepens relationships. Feeling good about ourselves starts by accepting ourselves - feelings and all. Emotions are a vital part of who we are and finding ways to honor them only serves to make us feel more whole.

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