Over the last few months, I have heard several people say that emotions are bad or will lead us astray. I have met people who made the most logical decision, only to wonder why they later hated that decision. I think our feelings have gotten a bad reputation because we don’t understand our feelings or how they impact our behavior. When we do not allow ourselves to feel, we become anxious or depressed robots that travel through life feeling disconnected, but not knowing why.
What are feelings?
If you were to name the first 5 feelings that come to mind right now, what would they be? We can easily identify feelings, but the reality is that there are only a few primary feelings and all other feelings are varying degrees of those feelings. While the list of primary feelings varies by theory, they primarily include joy, surprise, anger, sadness, fear and some variation of disgust or shame. Any feelings we list outside of these primary emotions are considered secondary emotions. Secondary feelings are helpful because they are more specific, but we have to also acknowledge what is at the core of that feeling. You can find many examples of a feelings wheel online that will help you begin to identify your primary and secondary emotions.
Sarcasm is an excellent example of a secondary emotion. Many people say that they use sarcasm as a way to connect with others or show humor, but this may not always be the case. In many situations, sarcasm is the result of someone feeling unresolved anger that then hinders their ability to authentically connect with others. Sarcasm has a time and place, but it is important to understand why you are using it.
Feelings Will Lead You Astray
I often hear people say that feelings should not matter when we make decisions. The general thought is that someone who acts purely on emotion acts impulsively. In many cases, unchecked emotions can cause problems (too much anger leads to pain, too much happiness leads to ignorance, etc). As a result, many people begin to label feelings as good or bad. Once the feelings have these labels, it then becomes a problem to show them, express them or even acknowledge them. When this happens, we can become afraid to experience joy or show our anger in maladaptive ways. In time, we lose the ability to form meaningful relationships with others, trust that good things will happen for us, or grieve fully.
Getting Stuck in Our Emotions
Unfelt emotions make us feel stuck. A great analogy I have heard for this is that feelings are like a train going through a tunnel. If you let the train ride the emotion out, it will come out the other side and everything will be fine. Suppressing emotions is like building a brick wall in the middle of the tunnel that will unexpectedly cause problems.
The reality is that feelings themselves are not wrong. The way we behave because of our feelings is what gets us into trouble. The more we allow ourselves to feel, the more we create awareness of our feelings and can choose to act accordingly. You can feel angry at someone without attacking them or pretending you’re not angry. You can be afraid of something without letting the fear control your life. You can grieve the loss of someone without falling into despair. It just takes time to learn how to behave in a way that is most aligned to who you are and what you value. The best decisions are the decisions made when you consider both logic and emotion.
If you find that you have many unresolved emotions, you are afraid to feel certain kinds of emotions, or you feel numb to all emotions, a therapist can help. Together, we will learn how to identify what you are feeling and create a safe place for you to explore. We will also help you decide how to respond when you feel a certain way. Call today to begin the process!
Written by therapist Elise Champanhet
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