How To Express Emotions in a Healthy Way

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 3.56.20 PMI recently received an email from someone who was concerned about how to express emotions, because in some ways she feels like she is “bad” or “failing” when she expresses “negative” emotions. She wrote:

“I am feeling myself to be ‘bad,’ and I hear myself saying, ‘oh no, I failed again when I finally let out my anger, frustrations, judging, and blaming…”

I responded with the following thoughts:

What first catches my attention when I read your email is your use of the word “finally.” I think too often we don’t address things when they are small. As a result, by the time we do address them, our frustrations and judgments have grown—and this is why when we express emotions, sometimes our expression is disproportionate to the event that triggers our emotional response. So, I encourage you, for the most part, not to wait to express your emotions—certainly don’t wait too long.

Express emotions at the first sign of emotional turmoil—when the issue is small.

Second, you ask if there is space within Reology to express our anger and frustration, judgments and blame. Yes, there is space in the Reology Orientation to express the ways we anger and frustrate ourselves. The difference between a Reology Orientation and non-Reology, is that in a Reology Orientation we take responsibility for our anger and frustration. So we express ourselves without blaming other people for how we are feeling.

And, yes, there is space to express—not so much our judgments—but the underlying thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves that result in judgments. This way, we are taking responsibility for our judgments. Maybe I am critically judging “Harvey” as unappreciative, but what’s going on for me? What do I need? Have I asked for what I need? Can I get what I need from “Harvey”?

As far as blaming “the big bad world outside there somewhere”—there’s not much room for that in the Reology Orientation, other than to admit that none of us are perfect and once in a while we have a pity party. It’s best not to invite too many people to such a party.

But here’s the key thing to keep in my mind. Reology does not advocate repressing our feelings, it teaches us how to express emotions in an appropriate manner. There is room for tears, grief, disappointment, confusion, and heartache—but all of these can be expressed immaturely or maturely.

This brings me to my definition of maturity:

  • More mature people have a longer time horizon. They think in terms of years, not days.
  • More mature people consider more perspectives than their own. They think about how their actions affect other people.
  • More mature people are capable of appropriate expression—they consider what needs to be said, when, and to whom.

I also want to say that just because our feelings are authentic that doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to express them. It also doesn’t mean that we are inauthentic if we choose not to express some of our feelings.

Ultimately, we each need to decide for ourselves what we believe is appropriate. As part of this question, I consider how my emotional expression affects my wife, my grandson, and my clients. Does my emotional expression create uncertainty, anxiety, and distance me from the people I love, or does my emotional expression create safety, intimacy, and help me connect with the people I love?

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