Emotions can get a bad rap. In a culture where the emphasis is on productivity and the only acceptable emotion seems to be “happy,” many of us have shut down the large majority of our emotional potential. But emotions are a normal response to life experiences — we all feel emotions, many of us very deeply, and they are an integral part of the beautiful tapestry of what it means to be human.
Our emotions allow us to connect more deeply with ourselves and others. So why do we so often deny and avoid this very natural part of our experience? Unfortunately, the reasons many women choose to do so are plentiful.
Here are just some of the reasons why women may shut down their emotional experiences:
- It feels inconvenient/ there’s “not enough time”
- Prioritizing support of others
- Not wanting to “burden” others
- Not wanting to be viewed/labeled as “irrational,” “too sensitive,” or “overreacting”
- Fear that allowing yourself to feel your emotions will result in overwhelm, and you won’t be able to hold together the many moving parts in your life
So too often we throw on the mask, stuff our feelings down deep, and the show goes on. But at what cost?
I would argue that the cost is quite high. Feminine energy is intuitive, creative, and relationship/connection oriented. When we forsake our own needs, it is often within the context of not wanting to let others down, or needing to show up for others in some way – but here is a fundamental truth that I have observed over and over in myself and in my clients:
That which you cannot be with in yourself, you cannot tolerate in others.
So if you’re not showing up for yourself, you are limiting your ability to show up for others in a healthy way. If you are swallowing your sadness or disguising your anger, you will not be able to accept these feelings when they come up in those you love. You may react with self-righteousness, judgment, defensiveness, or withdrawal. All of these reduce the level of connectivity and the quality of the relationship involved.
We all have a core need to be seen, heard, and understood. The greatest gift you can give to those you love is an open heart that does not impose your own agenda. But first, you must offer this to yourself.
So how do we show up for ourselves?
You have to check in regularly. Emotions can begin to feel unmanageable when you push them aside and allow them to build up over time. Connecting with your emotions as they present helps ensure that the necessary emotional energy can flow through your experience. All emotions are transient.
Often emotions are like small children – when you ignore them, they get louder and more unruly in their attempts to garner your attention. You’ll find that when you give your emotions your attention regularly, they won’t have to go to such extremes.
Create a Ritual
Since dropping everything to be with your emotional experience exactly when it arises is not often an option for most women, choosing a time of day (such as early morning or before bed) to create a short ritual of checking in will help keep you connected with your emotions and needs.
That way when a strong emotion presents during your day, you can settle in the moment by lovingly – and honestly – telling yourself that you will revisit this emotion later, and it will get the space and attention it needs. It is critical that you follow through on this promise to yourself. It is such a core part of being human to need to be seen, and our emotions need this acknowledgement as well.
Ways to check in
Here are three simple ways to connect with your emotional experience daily:
- Conscious breathing: Completing 3-5 minutes of slow, conscious breathing moves your attention from a place of thinking to a place of sensing. Sensing is connected with intuition, and when the thinking mind begins to settle you are likely to gain more insight into your emotional experience.
- Self-Inquiry Meditation: Bring attention to your experience in the moment with a mindfulness meditation focused on noticing what you feel. You can try a brief body scan meditation for a more general structure, or conduct a deeper internal inquiry with a guided self-inquiry meditation.
- Journaling: Getting your thoughts out in writing is a great way to connect with and discharge your emotional energy. You can use journaling prompts that resonate with you, or simply sit down and begin writing what comes to mind, allowing your feelings to unfold in the process.
Welcome every feeling as it presents for your attention with compassion and curiosity. Allow whatever is present to be there without needing to change, fix, or do. Offer yourself the gift of presence by observing your experience just as it is, through the perspective of a compassionate witness. Being open to, and curious about, any insights that may unfold as you stay with whatever is present.
Though there are certainly more (and less) comfortable feelings to sit with, it is important to remind yourself of your ability to tolerate discomfort. Every emotion has value, each one an important messenger in service of your health and well-being. It is a radically loving act to sit with yourself and explore your needs in this way, and will ultimately lead to a deeper sense of balance and well-being.
About the Author:
Kristen Acciari, LICSW, CYT is a therapist, yoga teacher, and and founder of The Holistic Heart, an integrative mental health center in Warwick, RI that takes a whole-person approach to mental and emotional health through the unique combination of holistic counseling, yoga, meditation, and wellness workshops. Kristen passionately believes in the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the healing capacity of compassionate, nonjudgmental, awareness and presence.