Something that has been coming up a lot over the past few weeks in my sessions is the idea that only one emotion can be present at once.
We often hold the false belief that if I’m having a bad day, the WHOLE day will be bad. This inevitably sets us up to look at our day through a clouded lens; a lens that only allows for the bad to enter while disregarding or even being unaware of good. Now, this isn’t to say that some days aren’t worse than others and it isn’t meant to invalidate sadness and pain. I am, however, saying that we can have many emotions present at once… and even more, we can have two opposing emotions present at once.
So, let’s talk about what this might look like. We can love someone very much AND still be angry at them at times. We can be in emotional pain and still feel gratitude for the support we are receiving. We can be having a great day at work and still be upset by the way a coworkers speaks to us. The overall idea is that we can hold space for seemingly opposing truths to be true at once.
So, why would it be important for us to allow all emotions to have space? For one, emotions TELL us something. They serve a function. Emotions can tell us if something or someone isn’t safe, they can tell us when we need to stand up for ourselves, or they can tell us who we are drawn to or move us towards goals. Also, emotions allow us to be conscious of our current state of being as well as our current needs. Emotions allow us to express ourselves and our needs in relationships and allow us to have connections to others. And yet, we still may try to avoid and bury certain emotions. We may even judge certain emotions as “bad”.
The reality is that emotions aren’t meant to be judged; they are meant to be felt and allowed to pass. Let’s take anger. Anger often gets a bad rap. People often judge anger as an “out of control” or aggressive emotion. We often confuse this emotion with fact; if I feel angry then I must be an angry person. However, if we go back to the previously mentioned idea that emotions serve a function, we can ask ourselves “what might my anger be trying to TELL me” rather than trying to avoid the discomfort that can often come with anger. And, finally, and I would argue one of the most important points about holding space for all emotions is this: emotions don’t just go away because we avoid them or bury them. They don’t cease to exist. They build over time. They continue to take up space in us. We begin to feel as if we are “going to explode” because we haven’t allowed our emotions to pass; we have not released them.
I think most of us can agree that certain emotions are perhaps easier or more comfortable to feel. However, ALL emotions are meant to be felt, experienced, and expressed. Without this, emotions can’t pass. We can begin to learn to lean into the discomfort of certain emotions, explore our own beliefs about emotions, and learn effective ways to express even the most difficult emotions.
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Jennifer Paul, PhD, LMHC, QS Psychology Today Profile