Emotions – I wonder how they make you feel? Are they an inconvenience or a blessing? Not only do we experience a whole range of feelings on a daily basis we also often have strong feelings about our feelings! This can create lots of confusion and distress.
Whatever your personal experience of emotions I think that it would be fair to say emotions are powerful things. They can be used for good but can also cause harm. Therefore I think it is important to develop awareness of our own emotions and relationship to them for our well-being and the well-being of society. Do they rule us or do they have no place in our lives? Or do we ignore them and then suddenly find them spilling out in unhelpful and unexpected places?
For many years I was not very good friends with some of my own emotions and tried to ignore them. I recognise now that for a period after having my fourth child I was very anxious but I also felt ashamed of this. This led me to hide away rather than acknowledge or talk about the anxiety. Unfortunately this only made things worse because the anxiety was actually signalling to me that I needed some support with my growing family but the hiding meant I could not get this.
Hearing that emotions can be described as signals or sign posts was very helpful for me. Siegel says “Emotion is a deep process that not only gives us the subjective sense of our feelings, but also orients our attention and lets us have a sense of ‘This is important.’
Making friends with our own emotions is a process and when they erupt powerfully or damagingly we can be at a loss to know how to handle them. Whether we are dealing with our own or others emotions – a compassionate rather than judgemental attitude is a great place to start. I hope the concept of being open and curious to what these emotions are signalling might be helpful. Rather than ignoring their presence as a blot on the landscape it might be kinder to allow ourselves time to explore and own them. By doing this it is possible to learn to respond to their message in helpful and healthy ways rather than react in potentially unhelpful or harmful ways .
With regard to helping others understand their emotions an acronym I find helpful is MATS:
Mention – I notice you seem to be feeling …….(angry, sad, ashamed…)
Ask – I wonder what is making you feel like that?
Touch – Appropriate touch can be reassuring and a sign of your acceptance – perhaps a hand on a shoulder.
Stay – stay with them for a while if they need to talk.
It’s all fallen out – oh God, oh no!
It’s such a mess and it’s all on show!
If only it was all in a nice neat row,
then it would be ok for people to know
what’s inside of me.
A mess on the floor – oh what a pain!
Pick it up; stuff it back; it is the main
thing – keeping things nice and not allowing a stain
on the landscape that might show the pain
and confusion of life.
Or we could take some time to look at it there.
Stop. Look – as you stand and stare;
What sort of feeling is in your glare?
Are you a harsh judge or do you care?
Maybe the mess inside of me;
Spilled out on the floor for all to see,
is a cry from my heart – a plea
for you to engage with the complexity