USA Today had an interesting article in it about emotions and how it is becoming more popular to have them rather than hold them in. The article quoted Daniel Goleman, whose 1995 best seller, Emotional Intelligence, popularized the idea that there are other kinds of intelligence not measured by standard IQ tests. He stated: “We’re so distracted by technology, there’s a growing hunger for a renewed connection with ourselves and what’s happening in the moment.”
USA Today also interviewed psychiatrist John Sharp, who teaches at the medical schools of both Harvard University and the University of California-Los Angeles. He described the growing awareness of emotions as relatively new. Not too long ago, “there was a kind of perceived virtue in not ‘giving in to your feelings,’ ” he said. “Now I think we are recognizing that our feelings drive our states of either well-being or ill-health.”
For many years, I have worked with individuals who perceived acknowledging their feelings as a vulnerability or a weakness. I have repeatedly responded to them that it is actually a great show of courage and strength to declare a feeling state and request that it be respected by another. Declaring one’s feelings is the first step in building a truly intimate relationship.
I have long proclaimed that if you don’t have your feelings, they will have you. Sure enough, research demonstrates that suppressing emotions can have serious health consequences, both physically and psychologically. If you suppress strong feelings, you are at risk to act them out in some unkind manner. Not only is that distressing to others, it detracts from your own self-esteem. Holding feelings in has also been linked with numerous physiological illnesses and conditions including high blood pressure, heart attack, suppressed immunological response and liver disease.
Additionally, the less skilled we are at navigating through our emotional experience, the less able we are at moderating intense feeling states during traumatic or high conflict episodes. The inability to notice, acknowledge and address a negative feeling experience puts us at risk for impasse in conflict resolution. Perhaps more importantly, it puts us at risk for the ratcheting up of brain chemicals which, among many, includes adrenalin. The chemical cascade of stress response chemicals ultimately ends with the over-production of cortisol. Over-production of cortisol plays a key role in, but is not limited to, the development of obesity, adult-onset diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.
So, for this week, let’s take the introductory course to emotions. There are five basic emotions: Mad, sad, glad, scared and ashamed. There are many other feeling words but they can usually be narrowed down to one of these simple five. For example, the feeling of irritation or annoyance can be placed in the feeling category of “Mad”. Disappointment or despair can be placed in the feeling category called “Sad”. Embarrassed is another word for “Ashamed.”
Here’s another pointer: many people will start off a statement with the phrase, “I feel…”, but then finish the phrase with a thought, rather than a feeling. For example, “I feel… like you don’t listen to me when I try to talk with you.” This statement starts off suggesting a feeling experience, but concludes with the communication of a thought, instead. A better way to communicate a feeling experience in this example would be to say, “I feel sad that you don’t seem to be listening to me when I try to talk with you”. In this second statement, the feeling is being communicated along with the thought, which makes it a much richer communication.
Most importantly, feelings comprise a significant spectrum in life: the seat of our passion; the underpinning of conflict resolution; and, the foundation of inspiration. If you live letting them go unnoticed, you lose out on a very meaningful dimension of your experience. So practice expressing your emotions and encourage others to work on becoming feeling-friendly in their interactions.