A woman is pissed at her husband. He asks what’s wrong and she says, “I’m fine,” though she’s anything but.
A man is torn up over an ended relationship and just wants to cry. But he’s out with his buddies, so he laughs and pretends like he’s okay.
This is what I’d call emotional fibbing. We as a society do it all the time. You know the rules: don’t be a sissy, never cry at work, quit being emotional, keep your cool. It’s like the only acceptable emotions are the positive ones – we are seriously in denial.
We all experience a range of emotions…so why do we pretend not to?
- Non-acceptance of the present. I know, it’s sooo tempting to check out when the present moment sucks. When you’re having a downer kinda day, it’s tempting to wanna pretend that you’re okay, to escape from how you’re really feeling. Maybe you can fake it ’til you make it…but that’s never worked for me.
- We’re not in touch. Is it possible that we actually don’t know how we’re feeling? After sweeping our emotions under the rug for so long, maybe we’ve forgotten about some of them. I, for example, unwittingly forgot about love. (cue the violin! )
- We’re uncomfortable. After forcing optimism and a smile for so long, our real emotions can feel uncomfortable. Negative emotions aren’t supposed to feel good – but whether or not they feel good, they’re a part of being human. By rejecting them, you’re limiting yourself from experiencing the full range of human emotions.
- Societal expectations. Men and women both have them: men are supposed to be tough and strong, both physically and emotionally – tears are not acceptable. Women, on the other hand, are allowed, even expected, to be criers. I recognize that these gender roles do have some fluidity, and maybe aren’t as rigid as they once were, but I still see their influences today.
There are many reasons why we stifle our emotions. Some of them make sense - why experience sadness when you can just cover it up with false joy? Well, lots of reasons! It can be a risk to get real with your feelings, but there are also some great benefits:
What can we gain by being emotionally authentic?
- Greater compassion for self. Instead of beating yourself up for feeling sad or frustrated, you’ll allow yourself to just be. It’s such a comforting feeling to have that safe space.
- Greater compassion for others. When you experience your own emotions fully, you understand when others do as well. Experiencing your own heartbreak paves the way for understanding another’s pain.
- More positive emotions. Opening yourself up to your emotions may mean fully feeling the negative ones, but it also makes more room to experience the positive ones. When tears stop being the enemy, you just might find yourself crying at a sunset. It’ll definitely feel ridiculous at first, but it’s so overwhelmingly blissful, you’ll love it!
- Inner peace/harmony. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” ― Mohandas Gandhi. How about what you feel? I think this is an important piece of the puzzle, and when you’re congruent, this is the root of happiness. Ridding yourself of internal conflict creates a base of harmony, leaving greater opportunity for joy.
There are many good reasons to be genuine with your emotions…If I’ve got you convinced, let’s move on to the how:
How can we experience greater emotional authenticity?
- Meditate. When you’re not stifling your emotions with activity or chatter, when you can sit still for a moment, you can be present with yourself and your emotions. Get to know them – how they feel, what thoughts pop up, where they came from, where they’re going. You can’t express something you’re not even aware of.
- Allow others to experience their emotions. When a friend is sad, as tempting as it is to say, “cheer up!,” don’t. Don’t minimize their pain – just be present for them, allow them to express it how they need to. When someone is in a bad mood, let them be. Don’t take it personally. This is one I’ve struggled with for a long time – someone’s crappy mood makes me feel bad, like I’ve done something wrong. These days, I try to remind myself that it’s them, not me. I haven’t done anything wrong – they’re just in a negative space. Let them be.
- Check in with yourself throughout the day. How’re you really feeling? How are you expressing that? Or maybe you’re not – we don’t need to put our emotions on display constantly. But even being aware of your emotions allows you a more authentic presence.
- Forget about what you’re “supposed to” feel. It’s tough, but let go of emotional expectations placed on yourself and ones you place on others. Instead, focus on how you do feel.
It may not be easy, but genuinely expressing your emotions can only add joy to your beautiful life. I’ll admit, I still struggle with it – sometimes, when I’m facing a particularly difficult or foreign emotion, I shut down. I don’t wanna talk about it. I close my eyes, roll over and try to just forget it. Luckily, I’ve got a great support system that seldom lets me get away with it. I’m often forced to face the emotion head on, coaxed into authenticity, whether I want to or not.
Being emotionally authentic doesn’t mean dwelling in negativity, or responding to a simple “how are you?” with the gripes of your day (please, don’t be THAT person!). I’m not asking for a neon display of every emotion you experience throughout the day. I’m simply suggesting a gentle awareness of your emotions and authentic presence with them. Greater congruence in your life = greater peace. And I’m all about the peace.
Wishing you a day filled with inner peace and authenticity. Be who you are and feel how you feel.
Peace, love and a steaming cup of Zen,