Typically, in this society emotions take a back seat to our rational selves. We pride ourselves on reason and logic, and our ability to manage day-to-day problems using both of these latter characteristics. But some would argue, and I would agree with them, that giving our emotions a back seat to logic and reason can be stultifying and even dangerous. We are by nature emotional beings -- from depression and anger to joy and ecstasy we can experience and express all of these. Emotions are supposed to be expressed -- the very word itself comes from the Latin ‘e-’ outward, and ‘motio’ move. Emotions are supposed to be moved outwards, put outside of ourselves into the world out there so to speak. They are not supposed to be held in, and yet we live in a society and culture where negative emotion especially is often looked down upon and judged. It even seems to vary between genders. Girls and women for example, are taught generally not to express anger, but sadness is okay; whereas men and boys are taught that anger is okay, but sadness is inappropriate behaviour for a man. Personally, being brought up in the United Kingdom in the 1940s and 1950s, I was taught that most emotion was not to be expressed. The result for me, was that I was a pretty un-emotional person, at least outwardly, until I was in my mid-20s. I had to learn, not without difficulty, that there was more to life than my logical thinking, otherwise anxiety and depression would have continued to be my constant companions. Fortunately, in the 1960s and 1970s learning how to express one’s emotions was all the rage. I had some good teachers -- Fritz Perls of Gestalt therapy fame and Alexander Lowen of Bioenergetic therapy among them. When I look back on that emotional training that I had, I am thankful now that when emotions arise in me I can recognize them and for the most part express them, whether they be negative or positive.
Our emotions are really both a guidance system to let us know how we are doing in life, and also simply there to be expressed when they arise. Emotions are like waves on an ocean and every bit as powerful. Like the ocean they rise and fall, they come and go, and it is only when we try to stop them that they causes problems. Sometimes the ocean is calm, and sometimes the ocean is rough, but one thing is certain - it never stays the same. Emotions are extraordinarily intense energy, that if held in simply stop us from being fully human. Indeed, they may even propel us into anxiety and depression in the long run if not expressed. There is significant evidence that depression and anxiety, when they go on for long periods of time, can make us feel physically ill too. It therefore befits us to keep in touch with our emotions and express them.
Depression is often treated these days as if it is a physical illness caused by a so-called "chemical imbalance". The truth is that this way of perceiving depression has more to do with the marketing of pharmaceutical medications than it has to do with how depression is really caused. It is more realistic to see depression as the de-pressing of emotion - pushing emotion down until it is so out our awareness that we can no longer feel anything. We become almost motionless as well as e-motionless. Anxiety is similar in that it is a holding in of feeling, although in this case the feeling is actually present, but it is stuck. It is usually felt in the chest -- anxiety comes from the word ‘anguere’ to choke off -- there is fear of emotional expression.
Since these articles tend to be about health, you might be asking by now what is a healthy way of dealing with emotion? It is helpful to see emotions as more of a vibration within us, and they can be moved out in a variety of ways. There is nothing wrong with expressing our anger, grief, sadness and fear appropriately; in fact it is to be encouraged. Some people who have pent-up anger need to learn to express it in a way that is healthy and doesn't hurt other people. I often encourage people to write their anger out on paper if it seems overwhelming and possibly violent. I also encourage people to express it physically through sports or other forms of physical activity keeping in mind the person they are angry at. The same applies to grief -- during loss it can be helpful to express this openly to a friend, or again on paper. Personally, I think grief is better expressed when someone is present to hear it. However, someone once said that the "purpose of emotional expression is emotional expression" - in other words the relief from the expression itself is sufficient. Nothing necessarily needs to change on the outside in order for expression of emotions to be effective in relieving the tension inside.
In fact, expressing these more "negative" emotions can automatically lead to a feeling of relief and hope, instead of feeling like a victim and helpless. Once you have hope you can begin to see things differently and the world seems different. If you keep holding in the unwanted emotion, then it simply festers. So I encourage people to move up the emotional scale from depression, sadness, and anger, to hope, fascination, desire, joy and ecstasy. Emotions can often come up at ‘inopportune moments’ – usually when we are not looking! If you have been to a spa for example, and had a massage or other relaxing treatment, you may have found yourself feeling unusually emotional. Well – let it out! In the hands of a caring therapist, nothing can be more healing.
Edward Leyton MD - Medical Consultant Ste Anne’s Inn & Spa Email: MD@steannes.com