I have a wry smile whenever anyone talks about how they “should” be feeling. We love rules and structures, guidance and expectations – they make life easier and stop us from having to think. It’s simple isn’t it? If someone dies you feel sad, if something positive happens you feel happy, if someone treats you badly you get annoyed… Nice and straightforward, we all know how we “should” feel.
Except emotions do not work like that. At all. They do not follow rules and structures, or rather they do but they are not rules that can be externally imposed. How we feel about anything that happens to us or around us depends not on the event itself but on:
- Our general wellbeing at the time
- Where we are hormonally
- What patterns and thought habits the event triggers in our brain
- What personal fears and concerns the event brings up for us
- How emotionally safe we feel at the time
- Our stress levels
Plus a whole host of other things that are unique to us and cannot be dictated by society.
There are also WAY more emotions to experience than just “happy”, “sad” and “angry”. Brene Brown has recently published her new book, Atlas of the Heart, which “explores eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human and walks through a new framework for cultivating meaningful connection.” How we feel is a rich and complex web, in no way simple but nothing to be afraid of either.
You will have heard the quote “What screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of what it’s supposed to be.” This is so true when it comes to emotions. The gentlest way to navigate our feelings is:
Allow emotion to pass
Maybe reflect on what we can learn from the emotion OR just let it go
In reality though what we tend to do is this:
Feel guilty for having the “wrong” emotion
Worry about the emotion we are experiencing
Fake a different emotion that seems appropriate
Ignore actual emotion, suppressing it and therefore encouraging it to stick around
Feel actual emotion more strongly as we are not letting it go or learning from it
Feel guilty for still having the “wrong” emotion and it apparently getting “worse”
Spiral down from there.
Emotions get bigger and more troublesome the more they are held in. Feeling weepy? Cry. Feeling irritated? Scream into a pillow. Feeling excited? Jump up in the air. Emotions are constantly passing through us, just let ’em out without worrying about what they “mean” about who you are as a person or whether they are the “right” thing to be feeling at the time.
What you should be feeling is how you are feeling. Let the emotions pass by in their own time like leaves floating down a stream. Be thankful for all of your feelings. They mean that you are alive.