Emotional resilience is the ability to allow ourselves to feel an emotion, and then move on from it, to roll with the punches, so to speak. When we are emotionally resilient we don’t store up “negative” emotions inside of ourselves, we just feel everything that comes along without judgment and then choose our reactions. Sounds simple, right? If only.
We have been programmed to believe that certain emotions are bad and others are good. The bad emotions are supposed to be avoided at all costs, which actually means we store them inside of ourselves, letting them build up to damaging and explosive levels.
The list of bad emotions is different for each of us, and developed from societies rule about our gender and culture.
Often little boys are taught that sadness is an emotion that they are not supposed to feel, that sadness is a sign of weakness. This does not mean that boys don’t feel sad, but it does mean that boys store sadness inside of themselves, avoiding feeling or expressing it.
Girls are taught that anger is an emotion they should not feel or express, anger is unkind and girls are supposed to always be kind. Of course girls feel angry, but they store it up inside of themselves rather than appear unkind.
These are simple examples of identifying emotions as bad, but it is usually more subtle than this. We learn from a young age to adjust our emotional reactions to fit other people’s needs. We suppress certain feelings in order to avoid negative reactions, we teach ourselves to shut off certain emotions.
The truth of it is that all emotions are ok, there are no good are bad ones. Emotions just are. We don’t have control over what we feel, but we do have control over what we do with the feelings. Avoiding certain feelings is a choice. We can make a different choice. It is a matter of choosing to be conscious of what we feel and then choose consciously how we react.
Most of us are on auto-pilot with certain emotions. Take a moment to think about an emotion you avoid, give it a name. Now for the next few days be conscious of each time you feel this emotion, catch yourself before you just skip it. First allow yourself to feel it. What does it feel like in your body?
Then express it in some way. Say something, write something, or do something physical that expresses the emotion. It takes practice to turn off the auto-pilot and choose to feel something. It will be uncomfortable at first, but over time will get easier.
You will feel better when you validate and express your emotions. You will also feel better because you don’t have a storehouse of that emotion inside of you, building pressure toward an explosion of some kind. Emotions have to be expressed, whether it be in the moment or later. This expression, if avoided, can be a physical or mental health issue or a very large emotional response to a small thing. You might just blow up for what seems like no reason, but eventually the emotions will escape their bonds in some way.
When I was young I used to watch my grandma cook with a pressure cooker. Old fashioned stove-top pressure cookers were very dangerous. If the pressure built too high inside the cooker it could explode. On the top of my grandma’s pressure cooker was a little weight called a pep-cock. The pep-cock sat on top of a small opening in the top of the pressure cooker. The pep-cock bounced up and down, releasing small amounts of steam, which regulated the pressure inside the pressure cooker. This kept the explosion from happening.
We all need an emotional pep-cock, a way to express all of our emotions so the pressure doesn’t build inside of us. Take some time this week to choose to feel and express all of your emotions. What is your emotional pep-cock? How do you release the pressure? There are lots of ways to express emotions, choose something positive that feels good to you and do it, everyday.
I went deeper with this topic on Kindred Spirits.
Watch the video here!