I recently experienced one of those days. Let me first say that I typically don't acknowledge my emotions. I don't like to feel sad and I hate crying, especially in front of other people. When I start to feel something, I generally ignore, stifle, or otherwise try to make the feeling go away as quickly as possible. Maybe I busy myself doing something else, or perhaps I'll have a quick outburst in private and then bury the rest so I can move on.
But one day, I felt like I was holding back tears all morning. I just couldn't shake it. Something inside was trying to get my attention but I was doing my best to ignore it. Until I was talking to a good friend, one with whom I feel safe and whom I deeply trust. When she asked me how I was doing, I couldn't hold the tears back any longer. They came pouring out. Being the good friend that she is, she just let me cry. She was present. She listened. She was supportive. It felt good to finally let the tears flow, but we had limited time together so when we ended our conversation, I still felt like I was choking back tears.
About an hour later I had a coaching call, one where I was being coached. That call was an opportunity to be fully present with myself and what was going on inside of me. I got curious about what was behind the emotions. In doing so, I realized how much emotional baggage I had been carrying around, how long I had been carrying it, and how heavy it had become. My emotions had been stifled for too long and they needed to be released. Being another safe space, I allowed myself to cry almost the whole way through that coaching call. By the end of it, I was already starting to feel lighter. After a little time to recover and then later, some laughter, I finally felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
The lesson for me in all of this was that I need to stop hiding and fighting my emotions! When I'm feeling something, I need to let myself feel it. If I feel like I need to cry, well, then I need to cry. Maybe that means I need to find a private space away from other people. Maybe I need to take a long walk, sit outside, or go for a drive. Maybe I need to call up a trusted friend who will let me cry without judgment or who will just listen while I talk. Whatever it means in the moment, I need to find or create a safe space for myself so my emotions can emerge.
I learned that it's time to stop carrying the weight of unexpressed emotions. I need to let them flow, explore them and learn from them. Part of letting the emotions flow through us involves exploring what's behind the emotion. I learned that to do this effectively, I need to become fully present with myself and get curious. I need to ask, "What's going on here?" If I'm feeling angry, why? If I'm feeling sad, why? What happened? What did it trigger in me? What story am I telling myself about what happened? What tapes are replaying over and over in my mind? What is my heart saying?
When we block our emotions from flowing, they get stuck inside and keep building until finally they come out in unexpected ways. The weight of unexpressed emotions is heavy. It can make us feel physically or emotionally tired, or it can make us feel "on edge" or agitated. We will serve ourselves better by paying attention to what's going on in our body and giving ourselves the care and nurturing that we need.
Tending to our spiritual wellbeing involves taking care of ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It means becoming aware of, accepting, and allowing our feelings and emotions - both the "good" and what we may consider to be "bad." But I am learning that there are no "bad" emotions. Because fear, sadness, and even anger - they are all trying to draw attention to something we need to know or learn about ourselves. When we become fully present with and curious about our emotions, not only will we learn to express them in authentic and productive ways, we also have the ability to learn and make a new or better choice for our self. And making better choices for our self means we will be better able to serve and respond to others.