“I come from a family of stuffers,” I had someone tell me recently. “We all stuff our emotions.”
This statement didn’t surprise me, because I hear this a lot as a men’s counselor, but it made me think about how we take certain things for granted. Emotional literacy is not a common lesson transmitted from parent to child, yet it is critical for success in life in work, relationships and for developing positive self-esteem.
Our parents often times stuffed their emotions, so it was common practice for a lot of people growing up. “That’s just what we did” – there was no other way to deal with pain and problems. Maybe you’ve “normalized your dysfunction,” meaning because you didn’t know any other way of doing things, that’s the way you think is right. Are you willing to question the way you’ve always done things to get truly happy?
Just because our parents stuffed their emotions, it doesn’t mean we’re committed to the same behavior if we don’t want it. We can learn to identify and deal with our emotions, even if we can from a “family of stuffers.”
Negative emotions that aren’t dealt with continue to lurk in the background our our existences, affecting decisions, behaviors, thinking and self-perceptions. They are like “invisible pilots,” unconsciously steering us through life without us knowing it – unless we become aware of them and deal with them. Dealing with negative emotions is an investment in more happiness, and, sometimes, a dramatically different and more positive course to your life.
Positive emotions, when stuffed, miss out on helping you “connect” in a deeper way to those close to you. Stuffing positive emotions denies you that “extra dimension” in your intimate relationships, because women in your life need that emotional availability from you. They need to know how you feel about them, and expressing positive emotions can be just as hard as expressing negative emotions.
Learning about emotions, and how to deal with your problems, first requires recognition of them. The process demands that you look inside yourself to understand the ways you avoid emotions and problems, and start to work through those avoidance strategies. Stuffing your emotions is just one way.
We stuff our emotions because the pain of dealing with them is too overwhelming to consider. Our minds create scenarios in which dealing with the painful emotions will destroy us. We spin negative fantasies about how if we go exploring those dark places within us, that we won’t come out the other side.
The reality, however, is something different. Negative emotions usually dissipate within minutes, when given full attention to them (without distraction). Negative emotions often physically reside in our bodies, so understanding how to locate them, sit with them, and let them pass is quite important.
Learning to communicate from those negative emotions is the next step. Instead of stuffing them, like you may have been used to, try to raise them up and speak through them to someone you trust, or someone who’s triggered them. By doing so, you’re learning to free them up so you don’t have to stuff them.