“If you don’t heal what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.” -Unknown
We all have emotions; we all feel something at some time in our lives. Emotions are so often feared and avoided due to associated pain. There is this idea that acknowledging emotions or expressing emotions means a person is crazy, unstable, or an emotional wreck. Emotions are necessary for survival, they help a person navigate through life, assess for safety, and survive. The emotions a person develops will help them relate to others and the expectations and demands of life. Emotions will help a person determine and learn what they need. When a person knows what they need, action can be taken to achieve those needs.
A person does not just develop emotions out of the blue; emotional reactions are learned through experiences. Each and every one of us have individual experiences in life. A majority of emotional reactions are learned in childhood. As a child if you were injured and you were told “stop crying… get over it” or “grow up already,” your core belief in regards to emotions may be shame, fear, or even sadness. The negative experiences in life have the potential to grow and take control over what a person thinks, feels, and how they perceive life Those emotions may grow into a dark shadow that controls an individual’s perception. What people often don’t realize is that emotional experiences and the reactions we have can be changed. We have the ability as individuals to alter our responses. In fact, it’s one thing in life that a person actually has control over. As with most things, we cannot change what does not exist. If you want to change what you feel and the emotional response that you have you first need to be able to identify the emotion and recognize what it is you personally feel without influence from others. A person can experience so many different emotions and an individual can express those in both healthy and unhealthy ways.
Sometimes people manipulate emotions to get what they want, or they cover up the underlying emotion with another emotion. For many people, what often presents as anger is really the underlying emotion of fear. For example, if I am in the parking lot at Target and my son lets go of my hand and takes off I promise you my response will not be calm. I will present as if I am feeling angry, I may raise my voice to get his attention, and I will more than likely run toward him. I absolutely am angry, but my real emotion is fear. I am fearful that he could get hurt, that due to his size a vehicle may not see him. It takes time and effort for an individual to become in tune with their feelings to actually identify what it is they feel, why they feel it, and then control the response. But it is possible.
I have often witnessed individuals presenting as angry or irritable when they really feel sad. They resist affection from others, they intentionally push people away, they yell, judge, avoid, and ultimately do not get what they actually need which is love and compassion. In sessions with patients, I will often refer to this as the “I am breaking up with you before you can break up with me” scenario. Sometimes the right person is supportive enough that they fight the anger, they take the time to listen, to try and understand, and will often discover that you were never angry, but instead, it was sadness, and that being alone is the opposite of what you actually need to heal and feel better. If an individual is able to take the time to explore their own internal emotions and take the time to identify what it is at the core they believe and feel, then that person will be able to communicate their needs to others and get what it is they need in life to grow.
Emotions are complex. Our experiences in life influence what we feel. If we have often experienced pain, then naturally we want to create some armor to protect ourselves as adults to prevent more emotional pain. As humans, we all have the deep need to feel safe and protected, a desire to connect with others and to love and be loved. Wearing layers of body armor prevents connection with others and it does not contribute to developing security. It only creates a false sense of safety in a very controlled environment which is not in itself realistic.
Making a choice to acknowledge your emotions and identify what it is that you’re actually feeling will be helpful. Taking the time to explore that emotion, and share with someone else what you really feel will help you recover from pain and alter the negative reaction. The more a person takes the time to process through their own feelings the more in tune they become and the more control they actually develop over what they feel and how they respond.
Life experiences contribute to a person’s perception of himself, others, and future. We have a choice on how we perceive the experiences, how we perceive ourselves, the relationships we develop with others, and the future we have. Take the glass half full scenario: is your glass half full or half-empty? Your answer has to do with how you perceive it. It could be 50 percent filled with water, it might be 100 percent filled with 50 percent air and 50 percent water, or it could be an indication to get a refill. How a person perceives a situation influences what they think and feel.
An individual will feel and function best when they become aware of their feelings. Growth occurs when they deal with the emotion in the present moment; that is when healing takes place. It is accepting what is and recognizing what you can or cannot change. When you choose to accept what is, even if it hurts, feels unfair, or causes pain only then can a person change. When a person is able to accept, they then have the ability to choose how they respond.
So often people minimize, ignore, and deny what it is they feel out of fear of the truth or unwillingness to accept what is. When we are no longer aware of our emotions or deny what we feel and believe regarding ourselves, we end up hurting not only ourselves but those around us.
Every single one of us has experienced loss or pain in our life. We all have hurt to heal and pain to recover from. Each of us needs to learn to acknowledge the truth of what is so we can move forward. It is unfair not only to ourselves but to those around us. There is no need to punish ourselves for what we feel and no need to punish others for our own inability to acknowledge the hurt and therefore not actually heal from that pain.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.