Don’t be afraid of emotions


We often hide our emotions or try to escape from them by keeping ourselves busy. But emotions actually provide us with useful messages about ourselves, letting us know who we are and what we value, finds journalist Otje van der Lelij (who isn’t such a fan of emotions herself).

How can you tell if you’re trying to escape your emotions? “Feelings want to be heard, so they will keep trying to draw our attention to them,” says mindfulness therapist Rob Brandsma. “No matter how good you are at running, your emotions will always keep trying to seep into your consciousness. You become somber or grumpy, or you feel uncomfortable. You can feel it most at the end of the day, when your reservoir of distractions is drying up. What it boils down to is that you have to be busy all the time, or else emotions will be able to grab you.”

What’s more, all that running and suppression drains your energy. That has all of the usual consequences, like fatigue, headache and physical tension. Unfortunately, it can also influence your ability to feel positive feelings. “The walls we build around ourselves to keep sadness out, also keeps out the joy,” wrote American author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn (1930-2009).

The first step is simple enough: stop and let your feelings in. This is less scary than you might think, luckily. “What people generally dislike most is that when an undesirable emotion pops up, it is paired with the fear for that emotion,” says psychotherapist Rogier Poels. “Just purely feeling the anger or the unadorned sadness may be unpleasant, but that’s not what people are scared of. Once my clients have achieved contact with their feelings, they usually feel relieved. ‘It is so important to feel this,’ they say. Or: ‘It’s suddenly so clear in my head, or clear that I have to pay attention to this.’

Another fear I often hear is that people are scared they won’t be able to stop feeling once they start; they’re scared they will drown in their emotions. But this fear is ungrounded. Emotions run their course like waves in the ocean. They start off small, grow larger to their breaking point and then crash and fade away. This is almost always followed by a sense of lightness, space and relaxation.”

Poels says that rather than pushing our emotions away, we could be seeking them out. “When we really want to achieve something in ourselves, we have to step on the brakes, stop and zoom in on our emotional experience,” he says. A tried-and-true way of doing this is by practicing mindfulness. “I like to think of mindfulness as ‘rich observation’,” says Brandsma. “Everything that happens in the moment, including experiencing emotions that you might find scary, is okay. You look upon it all mildly and without judging; there is nothing bad about what you’re feeling. This way you learn to be with yourself.

  • More about being scared of your emotions can be found in Issue 10.

Text Otje van der Lelij  Photography Josh Felise/Unsplash