I like to think about emotions and feelings as our internal weather. We tend to love a clear, sunny day but after too many of them in a row, I know I start longing for rain, especially here in New Mexico. But how many of us feel that way if we haven’t cried for awhile?
Tears are good for us, too, just like the rain. A good cry is cleansing, washing away the build up of stress and anxiety. It also softens and opens our hearts, keeping us humble and human. This clears the way for more intimacy in our relationships by making us more accessible for real contact.
If we allow our emotions to flow through us, instead of resisting them, they come and go like the weather, always changing. We don’t have to identify with them. They aren’t who we are. But they do carry important information about what matters to us. Without them life would feel barren and empty.
Granted there are times when our emotions over-take us in a storm. Like a hurricane they can blow in, wreaking havoc in our lives. But these occurrences are usually the result of unprocessed, undigested traumatic or overwhelming experiences from earlier in life being triggered by current events.
That’s why it’s so important to keep our emotions flowing. It’s how we digest and integrate experience. In the best of circumstances, we learned to do this growing up. Our parents encouraged and supported us emotionally, teaching us how to regulate our nervous systems and move through the challenges of life without being overwhelmed.
They held and soothed us when we cried, gently calmed us and set boundaries when we got upset and angry. They helped us be with, process, and understand the changing weather as it moved through us. They were there for us when we needed them. That’s called secure attachment.
Of course, many of us did not have parents like this. Instead we were left to fend for ourselves in the face of overwhelming experience. Or we were told to get over it, keep a stiff upper lip, or even ridiculed or humiliated when we expressed the more tender parts of ourselves. These experiences leave us compromised as adults, either anxious and overly emotional or rigidly controlled and resistant.
Our medical system likes to medicate the overly anxious and emotional types, and the corporate achievement-oriented world rewards the overly functional workhorses of the rigidly controlled. In neither case, however, do people learn to be with and process their inner weather in a healthy way. That’s where therapy comes in.
As your therapist I encourage and support your emotional expression, creating the safety necessary for letting go. Together we undo the aloneness you had to bear as a child and teach your nervous system how to regulate. You don’t have to go through life being afraid of or cut off from your emotions. You can befriend them and have a rich inner life that connects you to others.
(In Part 2 I will offer some techniques you can use on your own in those moments when you are alone and need some help regulating.