From the time we were children, most of us have been taught that it’s OK to express certain feelings, but not express others. Early on, we learned to hide emotions that made other people uncomfortable or that somehow put us in a less than favourable light. It was OK to feel grateful but not angry, OK to feel confident but not scared, OK to defer to our parents but not to question them, and so on.
Sometimes we even learned to hide these unacceptable feelings from ourselves. We feel frightened of social contact but deny it and pretend boredom. We feel hurt and rejected but deny it and call it anger. We feel resentful of abusive behaviour, but deny it and call it a successful relationship because we believe we need it to survive.
Unacknowledged feelings almost always cause trouble. We may be able to stuff them down inside temporarily, but they invariably find another escape route. They are like pressure building up under the surface, which then explodes in fire, ash and the molten lava of a volcano as it destroys whatever is in its path. Unacknowledged feelings will often manifest themselves in physical ways – in backaches, headaches, ulcers, or other more serious illnesses – in reaction to the stress of denying reality.
What were you taught about feelings as a child? Now that you’re older, perhaps you’d like to learn what others have to say. Try reading John Bradshaw on shame, or Martin Seligman on depression and optimism, or Harriet Lerner on anger, for starters. An abundance of literature is available on the effects of suppressed anger, for example. Then, take the time to make up your own mind. Journaling your feelings will help you come to terms with them and find solutions that reduce the anxiety, stress and pressure.
You are in charge of your own feelings. You always have been. Take the time, get to know you, and take command of your life.
Linda Sage MA, BA Ed(Hons), DTM