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Emotions: Friend or Foe?

Emotions get a pretty bad rep, especially those perceived as "bad", you know the ones... Anger, Jealousy, Rage, Fear. But I'm here today to tell you there's no such thing as a bad emotion. That's not to say we don't behave badly when we experience these emotions or that they don't feel unpleasant, but the emotion itself isn't the problem, how we behave under their influence and how we think about it is.

So are they Friends or Foe?

The thing is that all emotions, be they pleasant or not fulfil essential roles. If you have seen the movie "Inside Out" you'll see this message is pretty much the entire film's point. The movie involves four emotions inside pre-teen Riley's head whose emotive personalities, led by Joy, form Riley's personality and drive her thoughts and behaviours. But adolescence is a tumultuous time of course and it's not long before the apparent 'antagonist' of the story turns up; Sadness touches one of Riley's joyous core memories forever imparting a sad tinge to the memory. Fast forward some time and we are presented with the concept that maybe Joy was the real antagonist all along, having never appreciated sadness’s contributions to Riley’s life. Long story short by the end of the film Riley's newly decorated brain is run jointly by all the emotions having realised the importance each has in her life. Joy of course brings happiness, Disgust protects Riley's social world, Fear keeps her safe, and Sadness... she brings comfort to Riley.

The point is that, at their core, emotions are protective parts of ourselves and when we can listen to their message without judgement, we can truly see them as friends. Anger is often a response to perceived lack of respect for oneself or our boundaries. Hot-headed anger pushes us to assert our self-worth and reminds us and others where our boundaries are. when viewed in such a light its hard to imagine anger being bad. Anger then simply paves the way for value and respect where they may have been forgotten. Sadness signals to others our need for connection while grief clings to that which we have lost so that we may remember their love fondly.

Emotions and behaviour.

Emotions are energy in motion. - Peter McWilliams

Have you ever noticed that most of our emotions are deeply and inextricably linked to some kind of action or behaviour. How sadness is linked to crying or slumping, anger burns inside and exits the body as loud and violent motion, how joy skips lightly, and fear shrinks away or flails boldly. You may have heard the saying; Emotions are energy in motion. This is so true of our bodily experience of emotions. At times, our emotions spill over into some rather unbecoming behaviours, other times we bottle them up.

Neither of these options are ideal poor behaviour under the influence of emotion leads to relationship ruptures and further fuels the ‘bad’ emotions trope. Pushing emotions deep down inside only represses their messages for us and binds their energy inside us. You could be forgiven at this point for feeling like its all a bit hopeless and that emotions are foe after all but there are many ways to move the energy of emotions through the body without harm. A great place to start is by drawing your attention to them and their potential.

Making friends with your emotions through mindfulness.

Like any endeavour requiring attention, mindfulness can make all the difference. With mindfulness we bring our attention to the present moment and we explore the emotion without judgement, what emotion is it? Can I feel it in my body, where and what does it feel like? What might its message be? Is the energy of this emotion looking for a way out? How can I do that without harming others or myself?

Emotions, like most energies can be moved in various ways, try movement, cleansing with water, breathing, meditation, connection, release it vocally. Whatever helps you to release that energy from the body in an appropriate manner.

So you had a big emotion and behaved poorly; What now?

Apologise for your behaviour, not your emotions.

We’ve all been there, in the throws of an unpleasant mood and we yell at someone, slam a door, perhaps throw something, dismiss someone with a cutting remark. It’s never our finest moment but there’s something about emotions that makes us act poorly at times. A lapse in judgement or empathy which is usually replaced with shame and/ or regret later after the stronger emotions have subsided. So what do you do? Do you avoid it? Should you apologise? Act super kind to the person the next time you see them? Give them space to process your actions and plot their revenge?

The answer may differ depending on how you know the person, what the circumstances were, your relationship, and how often the behaviour happens. More often than not I believe we should apologise, but make sure you understand this clearly, apologise for your behaviour not your emotions. Keep it simple, direct, and resist the urge to add only any excuses. Try something like “I’m sorry for yelling at you, I shouldn’t have done that”. Apologising in this manner allows you to repair any minor relationship ruptures that may have occurred without invalidating your emotions. You don’t need to be sorry for being angry, anger is a valid and perfectly reasonable emotion to have, yelling at someone however is not.

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