Emotions have a terrible reputation. They’re blamed for bad decisions; they're squashed behind bitten lips and held breaths. Feelings are held up against rational thought and almost always seen as inferior. Expressing emotion has become equated with showing weakness--something that terrifies even the most powerful among us. Afraid of being perceived as "too sensitive," people struggle with revealing their emotions in even their safest relationships.
But no matter what we try, emotions are a fundamental part of us. And I'm glad, because emotions have something very important and powerful to offer. Feelings are connectors, motivators, and signals. Inside of compassion is a force that creates relationships. Inside of fear is a push to escape danger. Inside of debilitating sadness, haunting guilt, and tingling excitement can be pieces of information about what might be happening around us. When anger burns in our chests and ears, we get information: there is a threat, so it is time for our defenses to go up.
This is not a proclamation that emotions are superior to thought. Thoughts and feelings have equal importance in helping us understand and navigate the world around us. In an illuminating TED talk, David Brooks tells us: “Emotions are not separate from reason, but they are the foundation of reason because they tell us what to value.” Sadness and grief show us that a recent loss was significant. If we walk into a room and feel an eerie sense of impending disaster, we can look for the cause and prepare ourselves. We are bombarded with stimuli every moment we're alive, so emotions help us recognize where to focus our attention.
Brooks goes on to advise that “reading and educating [our] emotions is one of the central activities of wisdom.” Once we can identify our emotions, we can understand them, challenge them, and have control over what we would like to do with them. Take that burning anger I mentioned above. Once we know that we’re feeling angry, we can ask ourselves: “Is there really a threat around me? Am I responding to something in this moment, or is this kicking up an old memory? Should I confront someone with this anger or take some time to decide my next steps?” This type of reflection brings us more control over ourselves and our choices. The desperate attempt to control our feelings by pushing them out of our mind does not work. It only keeps us from understanding ourselves, our relationships, and the world around us.
I leave you with this quote from Albert Einstein: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant.” What could your life be like if you valued both? More present, more connected, and more fulfilling. I encourage you to find out for yourself.
Therapy is a great space to learn more about yourself and your emotions. Follow my blog for future explorations of emotion, thought, and other psychological stuff.