(Lesson 2 with the Vernon Community School, SD22)
I thought it would be helpful to start out our journey together by exploring the role of emotions. Understanding the role of emotions is an important starting place because emotions are largely misunderstood. We are often sent messages from a young age not to feel certain ways. A common example is a caregiver saying to child “don’t cry” – often because they themselves feel uncomfortable with emotion. Society sends us messages about emotions that are “good” or “unacceptable” – and we then become conditioned that we are unacceptable when we feel this ways. There is a great blog written by Karla McLaren’s about common misunderstandings people have about emotions – check it out if you have a moment.
The Role of Emotions… in 4 points
1) The Need for Balance (and what happens when we don’t have it)
We don’t enter into this world with the ability to handle intense emotions. Our ability to for affect regulation depends on many circumstances. What we are often left with is a lack of balance between the experience of intense emotions that arise from difficult experiences and the skills required to process those emotions in healthy ways
2) The problem of not feeling our feelings (why numbing those strong emotions isn’t the solution)
In a similar way that our body strives for homeostasis (internal balance), so to does our body strive for emotional balance. So when the EXPERIENCE of intense emotions EXCEEDS our ability to COPE with those intense emotions, problems arise. Without the needed skills to be with those emotions and work through them, we start to seek out anything that will reduce the distress we feel. Psychologist Kevin Miller writes the following:
“When we experience difficult and particularly horrible sensations and feelings, our tendency is to recoil and avoid them. Mentally, we split off or ‘dissociate’ from these feelings. Physically, our bodies tighten and brace against them. Our minds go into overdrive trying to explain and make sense of these alien and ‘bad’ sensations. So, we are driven to vigilantly attempt to locate their ominous source in the outside world. We believe that if we feel the sensations, they will overwhelm us forever. The fear of being consumed by these ‘terrible’ feelings leads us to convince ourselves that avoiding them will make us feel better and, ultimately, safer. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. “
Unfortunately, the unhealthy behaviours we might choose serve their purpose only temporarily and often create additional problems. They create a false sense of balance by numbing the distress). By learning to feel our emotions and regulate our emotional state in healthy ways, we render these unhealthy behaviours unnecessary.
3) The Feeling your Feelings Proposition
I proposed to the group that there is another way to view our emotions. What if we could view them as giving us important information about ourselves. So we don’t fear our emotions but rather look at them and learn from the messages they have for us. Our emotions are meant to motivate us to take action, to help us survive and avoid danger, and to assist us in making decisions – essentially, to take action.
4) The real Purpose of those Emotions (Harnessing the Power of our Emotions)
Psychologist Kevin Miller writes that emotions are behavioural readiness. Our emotions want us to take action (depending on what the situation requires and what the emotion is telling us). The very word emotion alludes to the notion of motion. When we suppress our emotions because they are uncomfortable, we are suppressing the energy associated with those emotions. So, we need to recognize, understand, and reflect on our emotions.
Our emotions provide us with important messages. If we tune in and listen (i.e. noticing how our body experiences emotion) we can then hear that message and respond appropriately.
McLaren, K. (2010). The Language of Emotions.
Miller, K. (2012). Mind-Body Attunement Therapy, Clinical Strategies. http://mind-bodyattunement.com/