For most of my life I thought “controlling” my emotions was a good thing; now I’m not so sure…
…as a boy and young man, I experienced quite intense emotions. I now know that’s nothing unusual, or bad, but at the time, especially as a male, it wasn’t seen as a particularly positive attribute.
I loved playing cricket, for example, and was relatively good at batting. But if I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to I’d often be brought to tears. And it was made very clear to me that crying wasn’t something young men should do.
I received this message, in a variety of different ways and in a variety of situations, and so learned that emotions should not be openly expressed. Accordingly, I mastered the art of “controlling” my feelings which for quite some time I thought was a constructive strategy.
Unfortunately, however, my (successful) efforts to “control” my emotions essentially meant I was suppressing them. And even more unfortunate was that I was suppressing not just the “negative” emotions but also the more “positive” ones. To some extent I taught myself not to feel!
Now this is (sadly) very common in males but I know females experience similar issues in slightly different ways. Most of us, for a variety of reasons, are taught to control how we feel and social mores essentially tell us how we “should” express our emotions.
The bottom line, however, is that this does NOT ultimately help us achieve positive mental health. The more we resist things like (negative) emotions, the more they persist.
So what should we do instead?
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is far easier said than done, but all the research and all my experience and my soul searching leads to the following, alternative recommendations:
acknowledge your emotions, for what they are
accept your emotions, curiously but without judgement, for what they are
get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable; not all unpleasant emotions need to “be fixed”
only then, take constructive action, where possible and where appropriate, to manage your emotions (but manage does NOT mean control or deny or suppress but rather, process them and deal with them in what ever way might be healthy for you)
So that’s it; give this some thought and try it out. I hope it helps you enjoy some more happiness. Until next time…