Do you ever feel like you’re holding it all in?
Your jaw clenches, your stomach gets butterflies, you feel tears well up in your eyes…but you try to check yourself. After all, feelings are unprofessional, right? Adults shouldn’t cry or get upset.
Many of us have grown up with the idea that certain feelings are “bad” or “wrong.” If you aren’t sure how to get out your feelings, you may be holding them inside. These feelings can later come out at inopportune times or directed toward the wrong person. It’s important we learn how to responsibly express our feelings. Feelings can be a surprisingly powerful tool when we wield them correctly.
Where does this idea that certain feelings aren’t okay, originate?
In our society, we don’t have a great relationship with emotions. Many of us have learned from a young age that expressing emotions wasn’t really okay. In fact, we may believe it indicated we were “out of control,” “weak,” or “too emotional”?
Perhaps you were made fun of when you were younger for crying. Or you may have grown up in a household where you were taught to suppress your emotions—that you weren’t supposed to upset people.
As we grow up, we can realize that it’s actually our job as adults to look at our emotions and realize the truth: there are not bad feelings. There are no wrong feelings. Even though we were perhaps trained in some way with our family or socially, that anger was bad, or fear was a weakness.
If we look at anger, for example, we realize that anger is really a very powerful emotion, but it’s not necessarily bad. Of course, it’s not to be misused or built up. It’s not meant to turn into rage or to be misdirected. Anger is a powerful emotion, but it’s not a mistake. In fact, none of our emotions are a mistake—there is wisdom in each of them. Each emotion has encoded within it exactly what we need to draw on to deal with a situation. So, in many ways anger is helpful.
All of our feelings are meant to push us away from pain and drive us toward pleasure. When we examine our feelings, we see that our emotions are powerful tools. Yes, you need to be adept. You need emotional intelligence and sensitivity toward others, but anger, for example, can be channeled to move you away from unnecessary pain. If we look at the purpose behind our feelings, we can recalibrate our emotions.
One of our students related to us all the ways she was constantly trying to please those around her, especially at work. She wanted everyone to like her. She would hide her anger and frustration because growing up her dad was often angry. He didn’t deal with it in a healthy way and she was fearful of becoming like him. So instead she avoided her anger, hid, and suppressed it.
When she brought up these feelings, she realized that when she avoided her anger and held it in, she ended up taking on extra work. Rather than telling her team she didn’t want to take on an unfair share of the workload, she would simply shoulder it and tell herself that she shouldn’t be angry. Once she got in touch with her anger, she was able to let the employees on her team know it wasn’t okay. She told them she wasn’t satisfied with the situation, it wasn’t making her happy, and it wasn’t working. And once her feelings were expressed, she started getting must better results. Everyone on her team improved because she harnessed her anger toward a result.
These beliefs about emotions are part of our early programming, but just because it’s what we were taught doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what’s best for us. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that it’s true.
When we talk about our early programming, we’re often discussing the network of experiences, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions encoded in our unconscious. We refer to this makeup as our “matrix.”
Our matrix is a constellation of belief system. This belief system is set during our early programming as young children. In our first six years of our life, we’re particularly malleable. Our brains are set for imagination, discovery, and possibility. This is why young children see every item as a toy. We’re in what’s called a hypnogogic state during those years, we’re easily formed and impressionable. During that time, we’re learning what’s okay and what’s not okay.
During our early childhood, within our brains, our neural pathways are being laid down. Think of it as a computer’s operating system. Life filters through and our matrix, shaping the way we see and experience different things. This matrix defines how we view the world, how we view ourselves, and what beliefs we adhere to.
As we become aware this matrix exists, we may realize there are certain aspects of our matrix that don’t serve us. Some pieces hold us back. (Like that voice telling you, “You’re too much,” or, “you’re too emotional.”) There are pieces of our matrix that protected us from hurt as a child. Maybe we were taught to fear certain situations or to believe the world was unsafe. While these beliefs kept us safe when we were younger, they no longer apply to us as adults and we can let them go.
As we grow and evolve into the person we hope to become, it becomes necessary to explore our internal makeup. Eventually, we may realize our beliefs aren’t necessarily truths. Our beliefs don’t dictate reality. What we believe may even limit our reality, preventing us from realizing our full, vast potential.
We may think, “This is simply how it is,” or “this is how I am,” rather than realizing the ways to grow and overcome behaviors and beliefs holding us back.
How many times have you been faced with a situation, like speaking out in a meeting or standing up to someone who upset you and thought, “Oh I could never do that! I’m a nice person!” or “I’m too shy to do that,” or “I shouldn’t feel angry.”
When we hold back our feelings because we believe we should or because it counters who we think we are, we’re limiting ourselves. We may miss opportunities and let successes pass us by.
For many people, even acknowledging the underlying feelings they feel is tough. Admitting them aloud, or even to themselves, is even harder. Yet, sometimes exploring our feelings, uncovering ourselves, and expressing ourselves empowers us helps us get a better sense of what’s really going on.
We may think we’re beyond unconscious thought. Many people think they have full control over what goes through their mind…yet psychologists, neuroscientists, and behaviorists have explored the way our unconscious drives our behaviors, whether we like it or not.
These are all examples of our matrix overriding our logic. We may know the action we’re taking (or not taking) isn’t serving us or moving us forward, but we rely on our default reaction because it feels safe and familiar.
Once you recognize this, it becomes easier to get out your feelings and work through the beliefs about yourself holding you back. When faced with a situation, ask yourself: what am I really feeling? We often encourage our students to simply “call out” the emotion they’re experiencing. Such as “Fear!” or “Frustration!” It seems a little funny at first, but soon an awareness takes hold. Calling their feelings aloud to their classmates and friends helps this awareness occur even faster.
If you’re trying to identify your emotions, look at your body—butterflies, hands sweaty, jaw clenched-these are all clues to your emotions. Did your behavior change in response to a comment or a situation? Did you go home and eat a giant piece of cake? Did you feel antsy or apprehensive? These indicators clue you into what you’re feeling. Now put the words onto those feelings:
“I’m feeling sad.”
“In this moment I feel joyful.”
When we acknowledge our feelings, almost like magic, it calms our limbic system and brings us back online. By expressing it, we’re able to channel the energy behind the emotions, name them, and express them fully. If we’re sad, we can cry. If we’re angry, we can truly feel that anger. Once we feel the emotions, we’re able to complete them. The experience is integrated, and we can then move onto the next activity. We don’t need to hang onto the emotions forever. Think of a baby—they cry, they express their feeling, and then they move on. We don’t need to hold onto our feelings.
When we acknowledge how we’re feeling, we start to explore the why behind our emotions. For example, when you’re about to talk to a coworker about a comment that upset you. You may explore your thoughts and feelings. Why did the comment upset you? What other feelings does it bring up? Are you feeling hurt? Anger? Fear at the prospect of discussing it with them directly?
Once you get out your feelings, they become less obtuse. We gain clarity. Why are you feeling hurt? Maybe because you felt unseen when your coworker took the credit or diminished your idea. You felt overshadowed. Perhaps you even felt threatened. Your desire (your yearning) to be seen, heard, and respected wasn’t being met.
When you realize this is how you feel, you may decide to express this to your coworker. The prospect of expressing your feelings may fill you with another feeling—fear. We may tell ourselves, “I’m not a confrontational person,” or “I prefer to avoid conflict at any cost.” Once you’ve addressed the fear, you can look at these statements about who you think you are: are you really someone who avoids confrontation at any cost? Or is this simply part of your matrix? Is this something you believe about yourself that’s not really true?
Exploring the reasons behind your emotions and reactions is the first step to expressing yourself. If you want to get out your feelings, take a deeper look at where they’re stemming from.
For more ways you can get to know yourself, please visit us at the Wright Foundation. We have many of our courses available for download on our website. Don’t miss out on our special introductory price on these great courses!
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.