There’s a lot of feeling being expressed in the world currently, and not all of it is being expressed effectively – some of it simply serves to create ill-feeling and negative emotions in others. With feelings running so high, I wanted to write about how to express feelings in an effective way….
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” – Daniel Goleman
Emotional intelligence is often perceived as hard to grasp. However, it is often easier to understand in terms of “intelligent use of emotions to make better decisions.” It is a skill set that you can improve through practicing effectively. Emotions tend to be expressed in visual, vocal, and verbal fashion mainly. The words we speak, the way we talk, and how we look are often reflections of emotions or flavoured by our emotions. You might have heard that expressing your emotions verbally is the most important. Surprisingly, some research suggests that spoken words only comprise 7% of all the communication elements. So, it is really important to pay attention to as many of the cues as possible when we are expressing our emotions. How can we express our feelings in a better and healthy way? And how can it be of benefit to us?
How expressing emotions can help you:
You might have been told that venting your emotions is good for you, or is unhealthy, that you are too sensitive, that your emotion is not justified, or that you need to hold your emotions in to get respect. But the truth is that bottling your emotions is much more likely to damage your relationships, impair your judgment, get in the way of success, and have a negative impact on the way people see you. That’s where emotional intelligence comes in.
It’s important to show up to your emotions. Instead of arguing with yourself as to whether you should feel a particular thing, open your heart to accept and express all of your emotions. There are numerous benefits.
A 2007 brain imaging study by Matthew Lieberman and fellow psychologists at UCLA reveals why verbalising our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense. Just by verbalising our feelings, we loosen the emotion’s grip over our well-being. Researchers have also found that expressing emotions in a healthy way-
• Helps individuals see problems in a new light
• Makes decision making and problem solving easier
• Lessens the power of the feeling
• Can reduce some symptoms of anxiety
• Can ease some depression symptoms
In addition, different negative emotions are stored in different parts of our body. If you feel anger in your shoulders, you will likely have pains down your arms or upper back as the tightness in those muscles constricts the blood flow down the line.
We store the stress and tension of different emotions in different parts of our body as well. If we just express the emotions, there would be no storing. When we store negative and pervasive emotions, it uses up our ability to feel good feelings and to think effectively.
There are 5 base ‘negative’ emotions – Anger, Sadness, Fear, Hurt and Guilt. Each of these emotions has a positive purpose:
• Anger helps us to protect ourselves
• Fear helps us to run away and keep us safe
• Sadness helps us empathise with others and steers us away from things that upset us
• Guilt stops us causing pain to someone else again
• Hurt stops us getting in the same painful situation again
It’s important to note here that it’s not the negative emotions that causes pain. It’s suppressing emotions. Research suggests that concealing emotions can have negative repercussions (Butler et al., 2003 “The Social Consequences of Expressive Suppression”) —both for the person doing the concealing and for those around them. More research has linked emotion suppression to higher rates of anxiety, insomnia, and other unhealthy outcomes. The good news is there ways to manage your emotion better.
“When our emotional health is in a bad state, so is our level of self-esteem. We have to slow down and deal with what is troubling us, so that we can enjoy the simple joy of being happy and at peace with ourselves.” – Jess C. Scott
Just venting our negative emotions can also have a downside and potentially create problems for ourselves in a number of ways. So we need to learn to express our feelings effectively and manage emotions better where possible.
The Goal of Emotion Management:
Many people think that emotion management is about learning to suppress your emotions. But that’s not usually a healthy goal. Experiencing different emotion is normal, and they will come out regardless of how hard you try to tamp them down. The true goal of emotion management isn’t to suppress your feelings, but rather to understand the message behind the emotion and express it in a healthy way. When you do, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll also be more likely to get your needs met, be better able to manage conflict in your life, and strengthen your relationships.
Mastering the art of emotion management takes time and work, but the more you practice, the easier it will get. And the payoff is huge.
Tip 1: Explore what’s really behind your internal feelings
Emotional problems often stem from what you’ve learned as a child. If you watched others in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, you might think this is how anger is supposed to be expressed. If you were bullied as a child, you probably have a hard time trusting people. Traumatic events and high levels of stress can make you more susceptible to fear as well.
In order to express your emotion in healthy ways, you need to be in touch with what you are really feeling. Is it anger, embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or vulnerability?
If you are experiencing a knee-jerk situation in social settings, it’s likely that something is covering up your true feelings. This is especially likely if you grew up in a family where expressing feelings was strongly discouraged. As an adult, you may have a hard time acknowledging feelings. This can also be a symptom of underlying health problems, such as depression, trauma, or chronic stress.
Is it hard for you to understand other people’s points of view, and even harder to concede a point? You might also struggle with compromising. Compromising might bring up scary feelings of failure and vulnerability. Learning to compromise and understand the position of others can help us to manage our own feelings effectively.
If you are uncomfortable with different emotions, it’s important to get back in touch with your feelings.
Tip 2: Be aware of your feelings
When you are feeling upset, angry, or confused, try to specifically name your feelings. What kind of upset or angry are you feeling? (irritated, sad, hurt, afraid, lonely, etc.) Anger is a secondary emotion. Try to find the primary one; which is more vulnerable such as hurt, fear, or pain. When a feeling arises, being curious about it instead of judging the feeling really helps to identify what’s going on for you. For example, when a feeling arises like jealousy, hurt, or sadness, ask yourself, “I wonder what is going on for me?” instead of saying to yourself, “you shouldn’t be feeling that sad.”
Tip 3: Accept and express your feelings
You can say to yourself, “I’m feeling (name feeling) right now because (situation that happened).” Recognise there may be grief in the situation because of any type of loss or unmet expectation. Give yourself some time to feel that. It’s okay to not be okay. Don’t run from it. Choose ways to express your feelings. It can be through speaking them out loud, talking with a trusted friend, journaling, or even singing, sighing, crying, swearing, for example.
Tip 4: Don’t be too hard on yourself
In the meantime, don’t stop trying. Social pressures can be paralysing, but, shouldn’t be overly so. Everyone has their moments. Worry less about what people think about you and more about the importance of what you are trying to express. Tolerate your own discomfort long enough to practice. Combined with time and effort — in time you’ll become smoother and more effective with communicating your feelings.
Tip 5: Find healthier ways to express your feelings
When communicated respectfully and channelled effectively, emotion can be a tremendous source of energy and inspiration for change. The key is to express your feelings in a healthy way.
Pinpoint what you’re really feeling in this moment. Are you feeling angry? Have you ever gotten into an argument over something silly? Big fights often happen over something small, like a dish left out or being ten minutes late. But there’s usually a bigger issue behind it. If you find your irritation and anger rapidly rising, ask yourself, “What am I really angry about?” Identifying the real source of frustration will help you communicate your anger better, take constructive action, and work towards a resolution.
Be honest with yourself about what’s bothering you. Simply acknowledging that something is making you irritable can often solve the problem. If it is spiralling out of control, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes or for as long as it takes you to cool down. A brisk walk, a trip to the gym, or a few minutes listening to some music should allow you to calm down; release pent up emotion, and then approach the person with a cooler head. Do any of these things to buy yourself some time in order to react and respond in a way that will serve you better.
Always fight fair. It’s OK to be upset at someone, but if you don’t fight fair, the relationship will quickly break down. Fighting fair allows you to express your own needs while still respecting others.
Make the relationship your priority. Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Respect the other person and his or her viewpoint.
Focus on the present. Once you are feeling low, it’s easy to start throwing past grievances into the mix. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the present to solve the problem.
Choose your battles. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worth your time and energy. If you pick your battles rather than fighting over every little thing, others will take you more seriously when you are upset.
Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for our losses and only adds to our injury by further depleting and draining our lives.
Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.
To avoid criticising or placing blame — which might only increase tension — use “I” statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say, “I’m upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes” instead of “You never do any housework.”
Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Use humour to help you face what’s making you tense and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations you have for how things should go. Perhaps avoid sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.
Have compassion for yourself like you would for a close friend if they were having the same feelings. Go for a walk, take a bath, listen to music, and let yourself know that you won’t feel this way forever. Once you allow yourself to feel the feelings, you will be likely to release them after a while.
Tip 7: Know when to seek professional help
If you are still finding it hard to express your emotions in a healthy way, despite putting the previous emotion management techniques into practice, or if you’re getting into continuous trouble or hurting others, you need more help. There are many therapists, classes, and programmes for people with emotion management problems. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You’ll often find others in the same shoes, and getting direct feedback on techniques for emotion management can be tremendously helpful.
Therapy can also be a great way to explore the reasons behind your struggles. Therapy provides a safe environment to get at the root of why you cannot express your emotions and identify possible solutions. It’s also a safe place to practice new skills for expressing your feelings.
You can also turn to reputable online websites, emotion management classes or mental health support groups, which will allow you to see others coping with the same struggles. You will also learn tips and techniques for expressing your feelings and hear other people’s stories.
“Expression that comes from the deepest, darkest place that most of us would rather hide from the rest of the world is the substance that will most likely also deeply affect others.” ― Ken Poirot
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